From prisons to horticulture; a psychiatrist’s career path is a road less travelled
15 November, 2021
How does a junior doctor end up in an art class in a men’s prison or acting as a facilitator on a leadership course for a Royal College or working with the Royal Horticultural Society at their brand new Hilltop Science Centre at RHS Wisley? By choosing psychiatry as their specialty!
It’s perhaps a lesser known fact that Higher Psychiatry Trainees are allotted one day a week to pursue a ‘Special Interest’ of their choice. It’s a fantastic luxury! You’re essentially given protected time to get involved in an area you’ve always been intrigued by or to explore new avenues and develop new skills or to enhance career aspirations and open doors…and you can be as creative in your choice of interest as you want as long as it has some link to psychiatry!
In my ST4 year, I contacted the Public Engagement Department at St George’s my local, general hospital and became involved in their outreach work with prisoners. I joined a group of inmates at HMP Wandsworth in their art classes and delivered talks about mental health topics whilst they painted. This relaxed, non-threatening environment meant the men could get as involved as much or as little as they wanted. Some shared experiences, some just listened and some asked tough questions that got me thinking!
The attendees also came up with some interesting suggestions for discussion…for example, I had to quickly become an ‘expert’ on the ‘psychology of colour’! Did you know that by simply installing blue lighting at the end of platforms in Tokyo’s Yamanote Railway station, the incidence of suicides by jumping in front of trains was significantly reduced (blue makes people feel calmer and less impulsive)?
The following year, I participated in the Royal College of Psychiatry’s Leadership and Management Fellow Scheme in my special interest time. I got to hear medical leaders talk about their career journeys, attended sessions on leadership theory, had the space and time to reflect on my own leadership style and worked on a project at my Trust to develop a system of trainee feedback about their Educational Supervision experience. I’m now helping to facilitate some small group sessions for the next cohort of trainees coming onto the Scheme in 2021/2.
This year, I wanted to get more involved in social prescribing and in promoting the benefits of horticulture on mental health. Last month, I started working with the Wellbeing Fellow at RHS Wisley to develop ties between the RHS and RCPsych. So far, I’m aiming to build up a resource that distils the evidence linking gardening with positive mental health, explore the barriers to prescribing gardening and help plan the Health and Horticulture Conference taking place at RHS Wisley in March 2022.
So, if you choose psychiatry who knows what you might end up doing?