Choose Psychiatry 2022: Special interest days as a Higher Trainee
10 November, 2022
Dr Samira Malik is an ST5 in General Adult Psychiatry. In this interview, she explains why being able to spend a day each week focusing on a special interest can be an amazing opportunity for Higher Trainees and play a vital role in your development as a psychiatrist.
I was always aware as a Core Trainee of the ‘Special Interest’ time during the Higher Training years, but I had little idea of what this entailed and how much I would come to value it.
Special Interest Sessions - also known as Professional Development Sessions - are the allocated time of two sessions (afternoon or morning) a week separate from clinical duties, mandatory teaching or study leave.
This time is for trainees to have more opportunities to gain a broader range of skills and achieve competencies that may otherwise be difficult to complete.
Will my Special interest time be protected?
When I started my ST4 year in General Adult psychiatry I was based in a large district hospital. I remember feeling unsure of how the Special interest time would be protected or if I would be able to fill it consistently and appropriately.
The concept of having the responsibility for a day a week felt liberating and very much a privilege especially after the busy Core years.
I began with the practicalities of arranging time away from clinical work and spoke to my clinical supervisor.
I was a little apprehensive asking for the sessions especially when I had just started the role, but this was unfounded, and we agreed a full day versus two half days would work best.
Then came the realisation, I now had Thursdays for development and growth, but what did this actually translate to in real terms?
The first Thursday I stayed at home and reflected, what did I want to be better at? What do I want to make a difference in? What do I need to learn more about?
It may sound strange, but I am not sure that until this point, I had asked myself such specific questions. I knew I wanted to be a General Adult Psychiatrist but what was the draw?
Choosing my Special interest
I broke this down into stages; firstly, I was most interested in female mental health, the aspects of trauma responses, the interplay of EUPD, abuse, help seeking behaviours, and coping mechanisms.
To be really specific, I was interested in the consequences of disrupted boundaries and breakdown of trust, and whether this is a contributor to longstanding changes. I wanted to know more about these areas and if there was anything I could learn that could improve my future practice and be of help, the ultimate goal would be to provide long term meaningful change.
My next step was to put all the reflections into a search engine and see what came up.
I found that there was a local research group who were looking into some aspects of what I wanted. I wrote to the Lead researcher, received a reply and redirected to another team who asked me to interview the following week.
The meeting was positive however the specific project was ending, and recruitment was over.
I was disappointed but relayed that I am a specialist trainee, that I was very much interested in their work, and I had dedicated free time every week to offer.
Following this, I was asked if I would be interested in an alternative project. Sometimes as trainees we can forget that we hold many skills and our dedicated time and energy into projects is an attractive offer.
An amazing and rewarding venture
Then, dear blog reader, I became part of an amazing and rewarding venture!
Incorporating both research and special interest time. I joined a steering group looking at where best to invest funding to help those who had experienced sexual violence and we produced the Top 10 Priorities for Sexual Violence and Abuse Research paper.
I learnt a great more than expected, seeing how external agencies run meetings, how to contain heated debate while holding different viewpoints and how to present my own thoughts as a mental health professional.
From this I was able to incorporate new skills into my other roles for example as ST rep where I would chair our monthly communication meetings. Having this exposure to different workings helped develop my own skills in both leadership and management.
I took away a deeper understanding of the patient voice and reflected on how different this can be away from the usual clinical setting. Seeing in action the shared learning from having ‘lived experience’ gave a wider prospective to my daily work. The time was also personally rewarding as I had the chance to positively contribute to help find solutions in a very complex and challenging area.
Excited and grateful
Starting my ST5 year, I am excited and grateful that we continue to have our Special Interest time for personal and professional growth. This is one of the parts of training that I most value. I also appreciate how the Royal College has given us the trust and freedom on deciding how to best use this time and that they champion its role in our training.
I hope our current and incoming Higher Trainees have a rewarding and powerful experience as I have and #continuetochoosepsychiatry.