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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

A Career in Psychiatry

Mental illness is extremely common - far more prevalent than most people realise. Research suggests that 1 person in 4 will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year1. This kind of illness therefore ranks alongside cardiovascular disorders and cancer as one of the nation's biggest health problems. Mental health problems can take many forms including depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, anxieties, phobias, drug and alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dementia.

Many of us may already have experience of mental health problems; we may have a relative, friend or partner suffering from depression, or who has had to deal with the effects of bereavement, marital difficulties, misuse of drugs or alcohol, or take responsibility for old people suffering from memory loss, or children with painful emotional problems. These are issues which could affect any one of us.
1. The Mental Health Foundation - data derived from Goldberg, D. and Huxley, P. 'Mental illness in the Community.' 1980. Also Goldberg, D. 'Filters to care', in 'Indicators for Mental Health in the population.', Jenkins, R. and Griffiths, S, (ed.) The Stationary Office 1991

Why should I train to be a psychiatrist?

Doctors interested in treating psychiatric disorder are attracted to the profession for a number of reasons:

  • It is innovative, exciting and rewarding
  • UK training schemes for would-be psychiatrists are some of the most high-quality and well-structured on offer
  • Working conditions are flexible, with many opportunities for part-time working, making it attractive to doctors with families, caring responsibilities and/or those who are interested in a portfolio career’

Many of us already have experience of mental health problems

Career prospects are excellent with a good choice of consultant posts on offer. There is enormous variety within psychiatry. You could be treating people suffering from numerous mental health problems including:
  • schizophrenia
  • mania
  • depression
  • learning disabilities
  • alcoholism or drug addiction
  • eating disorders
  • phobias, such as fear of heights or open spaces
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • anxiety
  • personality disorders
or helping patients to cope with:
  • marital or family problems
  • bereavement
  • memory impairment
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • the mental health problems of children and teenagers
  • criminal proceedings and Court appearances
If you are someone with good 'people' skills and would like to develop these further helping a wide variety of people with their problems and concerns, psychiatry offers a challenging and stimulating career.
Psychiatry offers the opportunity to work closely in a multi-disciplinary team with a variety of other healthcare professionals such as community psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists and occupational therapists.
You can work in a range of different settings, including hospitals, the community, schools, special units, residential homes and even prisons.

How to become a psychiatrist

  1. Medical degree (usually 5 years): All psychiatrists are qualified doctors, so first you must gain a place at a medical school.  Medical school provides students with exposure to the different specialties within medicine. You will find general information and advice on becoming a doctor, as well as a list of medical schools, on the British Medical Association website.
  2. Foundation training (2 years): After medical school you will spend 2 years working in a hospital as a ‘foundation programme trainee.’ This will extend the knowledge and skills you have gained as a medical student.
  3. Specialty training (usually 6 years): On completion of your foundation programme you will undertake six years of specialty training; three year core training programme (CT1-CT3) and three years in a higher training programme (ST4-ST6):
    • During core training, trainees gain experience in the different areas of psychiatric practice through four to six month training posts.

Is Psychiatry right for me?

Have a go at our ‘Try being a Psychiatrist’ quiz!

What if I already have a degree?

You will still need to apply for medical school even if you already have a degree in another subject. A number of medical schools however offer graduate-entry programmes to candidates who already have degrees – usually, but certainly not exclusively, in scientific subjects. These courses are shorter (usually 4 years) than the traditional 5 years. For more information please speak with the medical school you are considering applying to.

Alternative Careers

If you would prefer to get information on other careers in professions related to mental health, that do not involve having a medical degree (such as psychology and counselling), please visit the following:

If you would like any further information please contact:
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Student AssociatesHook up with other psychiatry enthusiasts! Find out if there's a Psychiatry Society at your university.

Sir Simon Wessely

VIDEO: Professor Simon Wessely - A Career in Psychiatry

A video aimed at Medical students and Foundation Doctors.

This film has been developed to promote the expansion of the Foundation Programme in Psychiatry.

Supporting medical students with mental health conditions - latest MSC and GMC guidance

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