Psychiatrist Jobs and Careers

If you are interested in the human mind and human biology, and have good people skills, then a career as a psychiatrist might appeal to you. Psychiatry is the medical treatment of mental health disorders. This is not to be confused with psychology, which focuses on how people think, act and behave, individually and in social groups. Psychiatrists focus on the functioning of the mind from a genetic, biochemical and learned perspective.

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Mental illness is one of the most prevalent illnesses in the UK. Most people know someone who has experienced mental illness of some form - many of us will also experience it ourselves at some point. Mental illness can enter people's lives in the form of:

A psychiatrist often uses medication to address problems, rather than focusing on therapy and counselling, which is more common to psychology. Working in a multidisciplinary health team, the psychiatrist treats people's mental health disorders, aiming to bring about mental health and stability, so that their patients can function and interact successfully in society.

There are many specialist areas within the field of psychiatry. These include:

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What is Involved in the Job?

The daily work of a psychiatrist depends on the sector they work in. Here, we will look at some of the areas psychiatrists are concerned with.

General adult psychiatrists are based in district general hospitals, university hospitals, community medical units and other medical locations. They address mental illnesses in people over 16 years, including depression, schizophrenia, mania and personality disorders, in people of all ages. They have to liaise with a broad health team, including social workers, community psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists.

Geriatric psychiatrists focus on those over the age of 65, with much of their work concentrated on delirium and dementia associated with old age. They are very much part of the geriatric, cross-disciplinary medical team, including neurologists, social workers, community psychiatric nurses, etc.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists work with children up to school leaving age who are experiencing problems of a behavioural, intellectual or emotional nature. Based in hospitals, day units, special schools or community homes, they implement treatments including individual psychotherapy, family therapy and behavioural therapy.

Forensic psychiatrists are involved with the criminal law process, either working with offenders with mental health problems, or conducting assessments on behalf of prosecution or defence counsels, or the courts in assessing levels of criminal responsibilities. They work in hospitals and prisons amongst other locations.

Learning disability psychiatrists address mental health issues that frequently arise with people who have learning disabilities. Working from residential homes, community establishments and private homes, they are part of a team that also includes psychologists, nurses, counsellors, occupational therapists and others.

Psychotherapists work with people suffering from personality disorders, behavioural disorders, psychoneuroses, etc. They are based in hospitals, medical clinics and other clinics where extended support is offered to people of all ages.

Liaison psychiatrists work in general hospitals, addressing the mental health needs of patients who may, for instance, have tried to commit suicide or who are exhibiting medical problems that may relate to psychological problems. This work may involve admitting people to psychiatric hospitals or mental health wards.

Rehabilitation psychiatrists help people who are recovering from long-term mental health issues, so that they may achieve better social inclusion. This involves working with carers and family as well as different agencies, such as the health agencies and, where appropriate, the criminal justice system. A high level of social awareness is involved in this area.

Addiction psychiatrists work with adults and young people who are living with drugs, alcohol or other addictions, sometimes in addition to other mental illnesses. They must work with other professionals, including social services, courts, housing, prisons and probation services.

Academic psychiatrists conduct research that underpins the body of knowledge on mental illness and its treatment. They also conduct their own psychiatric consultations.

Is This Job Right for You?

Psychiatry is a science-based, clinical profession, so you clearly need to have a liking and aptitude for science subjects. High levels of personal responsibility and integrity are a must.

You need to be an emotionally stable person in your own right, with an interest in people, coupled with the ability to work closely with people who are not always easy to communicate with. Uppermost in the skills you need are advanced listening skills, plus the ability to pay attention to detail.

The role requires sensitivity and compassion, in other words the real desire to help people overcome their problems. Patience is important, as changes in patients' situations may be slow and may sometimes not happen at all.

Although you are frequently working in health and social care teams, or with agencies such as the courts or housing, much of the work is conducted on a one-to-one basis with patients or clients. You need to be able to communicate with a wide range of people.

Clinical skills are vital, with the inclination to continue learning and updating on a professional level. This can mean continuing with education after obtaining a degree or higher degrees. You will also need to be research oriented enough to stay on top of current developments in treatments.

The ability to research is vital, both in the undergraduate and graduate study stages, but also for ongoing professional development, and according to the needs of individual cases.

Environment and Hours

Working conditions vary according to the field the psychiatrist is working in. Many have their own offices, being wholly or partly self-employed. There is often a need to work evening or weekend hours so that all clients can be accommodated. Psychiatrists working in hospitals or long term care facilities may work irregular hours according to the needs of that institution.

Academic psychiatrists working in colleges and universities often divide their time between lecturing, research and administration, with part-time consulting practices as well. Academic hours will be fairly structured, although research projects with deadlines may require overtime hours at times.

Qualifications Required

The educational pathway to becoming a psychiatrist is a fairly lengthy one. A medical degree is the first requirement and this usually takes 5 years to complete. To gain admission to medical school, three good passes at A Level are needed, with at least one being a science subject. Some medical schools insist on chemistry.

Medical graduates then spend 2 Foundation Years, gaining experience as a trainee in a hospital setting. In the second year, there is the opportunity to gain specialty training in psychiatry. After this is completed, it is possible to register as a doctor with the General Medical Council.

Following this, it's necessary to apply for specialty training. This lasts around 6 years. At its conclusion, an exam must be passed in order to become a Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (the 'MRCPsych').

Salaries and Prospects

As a newly qualified trainee psychiatrist, you could earn as little as £24,000 or even less. Upon attaining full qualification, earnings would initially be around £36,000. With a few years' experience, this would rise to around £45,000. Consultant psychiatrists earn between £70,000-90,000 a year.

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