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

Volunteer Scheme Summary

Ghana volunteer

I have been an observer and traveller in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 This time I wanted to contribute to a community by sharing my skills and embracing culture through participation.

This would not only be a rewarding professional experience but an enriching personal one.'




Dr Clive Stanton, Volunteer, Pantang Hospital, Ghana, 2009


The Royal College of Psychiatrists is committed to supporting mental health care across the world, particularly in countries that are known to suffer from an acute shortage of psychiatrists or that have a skills gap that can have consequences for both primary and specialist mental health services.


The College’s volunteer scheme aims to facilitate contact between hospitals, clinics, projects and communities in need of psychiatric expertise and training, and psychiatrists who are willing to offer their time and support.


The College has a database of over 120 of its Members that have registered to be volunteers.


These volunteers have provided details of their skills and experiences which include curriculum development, teaching, examining, mental health service and legislation development, research training and mental health integration into primary care.


The database also contains details of the languages they speak, their availability and any previous experience they may have had as a volunteer.


As well as independently organised placements, the College continues to work with organisations such as Challenges Worldwide, THET and WHO to place volunteers across the globe.


Completed placements over the last year have included the Department of Psychiatry in Ethiopia, a WHO Pacific Island Mental Health Network placement in the Solomon Islands and a Challenges Worldwide placement based at the Pantang Hospital in Ghana.


You can view of map of completed placements and read reports from volunteers on the volunteers homepage.

Hosting a Volunteer

Institutions that are interested in making use of a psychiatrist in the short or medium are invited to submit an application detailing their requirements and specifying the range of expertise they require. 

On receipt of an application the College identifies suitable volunteers whose skills, availability, language competence and experience match the requirements.


Once a volunteer has been chosen the College offers assistance in making the pre-placement arrangements with the volunteer, including mentoring and country specific advice if necessary.

The host institution identifies a local mentor able to offer initial induction as well as regular contact, assistance and advice to the volunteer throughout the placement. 

A pre-placement meeting with the volunteer, the mentor and the College co-ordinators is then arranged to discuss details of the placement and to identify any practical arrangements to be made. 

The College maintains regular contact with the volunteer and the host institution to ensure that any problems that might arise are resolved quickly and effectively.

Hosting a Trainee Volunteer

College Volunteers are often senior or recently retired psychiatrists but increasingly senior psychiatric trainees are expressing an interest in becoming a volunteer.

The College believes that exposure to mental health provision models influenced by cultural systems other than the UK NHS, as well as innovative methods of service delivery that inadequately resourced services bring about, are essential in shaping UK mental health experts of the future.

The rationale and practical arrangements for hosting a trainee volunteer remain largely the same as those for senior consultants.

One important difference in this respect is supervision. A trainee placement should offer an affiliation or formal attachment to a university department, a hospital or the ministry of health.

This is important if any research or audit undertaken by the visiting trainee requires ethical or other approval.

It also ensures that relevant organisations know about the trainee’s project so that it does not interfere with other national programmes.

Volunteer trainees must have a local mentor – usually either a Member or Fellow of the College, or an individually approved senior psychiatrist.


Wherever possible, the College endeavours to place a consultant volunteer with the trainee in the same area thus providing opportunities for mutual support, supervision and mentoring for the trainee.

Becoming a Volunteer

Members of the College that are interested in registering as a College Volunteer are asked to complete an application form detailing their skills and experiences.

 They are also asked to provide an up to date CV and details of two referees that are able to confirm their suitability as a volunteer.

On receipt of an application the College will write to the referees and put the volunteer’s details on the College database.

The College will then contact the volunteer as and when a suitable placement becomes available.

Senior trainees are welcome to register as volunteers. Trainees in their penultimate or final year of training are eligible, Trust approval permitting, for an overseas placement approved towards their final specialist qualification.

Volunteer trainees are required to identify a suitable mentor in the UK who has knowledge of the country of placement and is (usually) an approved trainer in the UK. 

 The trainee is expected to meet their mentor before their departure and on their return, and to maintain fortnightly email contact throughout their placement.

The UK programme director monitors progress.  Trainees are required to write a detailed report about either an audit or research project or a clinical case study, with supervision from the UK mentor.

All volunteers are asked to provide a report on their placement on their return which will be submitted to the International Advisory Committee and may appear on the College’s Website.


Funding remains one of the main difficulties both for consultant and trainee volunteers.  There are no major donors for this kind of work; however, most of College volunteers are willing to fund most of their own expenses.

Thanks to fundraising efforts led by Professor Sheila Hollins in 2008 the College is able to cover the cost of travel to and from the placement.

The College provides the administrative infrastructure for the programme and the host institution may, in some cases, be able to provide some assistance, e.g. basic accommodation, a local salary, local transport, etc.


For further details on the College’s Volunteer Scheme or to request an application form please contact Elen Cook the College’s International Liaison Manager:  or telephone 0207 2352351 ext. 6136.

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