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Career Advice

How to become a psychiatrist

How to become a psychiatrist?

The most important thing when considering whether or not psychiatry is the correct career choice for you is research. Psychiatry, by its very nature, is a highly specific field of medicine and requires a distinct skillset and particular personal attributes to be practised with accomplishment.

All too often the role of a psychiatrist is confused with that of a psychologist – and whilst the two roles may sound phychclosely related, they are in fact clearly distinct from one another.

Psychology is the study of people; how they act, how they think, how they react and how they interact with others and their environment. First and foremost, Psychology is a discipline that is concerned with the ‘normal’ functioning of the mind, but some psychologists will choose to specialise in the area of mental illness.

Psychiatry is the study of mental illnesses which includes their prevention, diagnosis and treatment.  The main distinction between psychiatrists and psychologists is that they are medical doctors, who have attended medical school and chosen to specialise in the field of psychiatry.

Areas of Psychiatry

In the UK psychiatry is divided up into 2 wide ranging groups, Adult psychiatry and child/adolescent psychiatry. Within the adult category there are 6 further sub-divisions;  general psychiatry, the psychiatry of learning difficulties, old age psychiatry,  forensic psychiatry and psychotherapy.  Child and adolescent psychiatry (CAP) is a subspecialty and is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders/mental illnesses from infancy to mid-teens.  Many psychiatrists will choose to become specialised in a specific field of study whilst maintaining good general psychiatry credentials.

Work Activities

Given that no two human beings are exactly the same, and the actual functioning of the human brain, is a comparatively little known area of medicine, Psychiatry can be an extremely challenging and varied field to work in. However, generally speaking there are certain work activities which you could be expected to carry out on a day-to-day basis.

Psychotherapy – this is one of the most powerful tools that a psychiatrist has at their disposal. It is a treatment method in which, during regularly scheduled meetings, the psychiatrist and patient discuss troubling problems and feelings. The physician helps patients understand the basis of these problems and find solutions.  Alongside this there are a number of other work activities which might be required for a psychiatrist, these include;

  • Analysis and evaluation of patient data or test results to diagnose a mental disorder

  • Prescribe and deliver psychotherapeutic treatments or medications to treat mental illnesses.

  • Collaboration with doctors, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, or other healthcare professionals to discuss treatment plans and progress.

  • Gather and maintain patient information and records, including social or medical history obtained from patients, relatives, or other professionals.

  • Review and evaluate treatment procedures and outcomes of other psychiatrists or medical professionals.

Skills and personal attributes

As you can probably guess there are a wide range of skills and personal attributes that are desirable (and sometimes necessary) to have a successful and fulfilling career as a psychiatrist.   Some of those which could be described as most important could be;

  • A pleasing demeanour with the ability to build a rapport with patients

  • Calm and relaxing manners which make a patient feel at ease

  • Excellent communication skills

  • Perception – It is vitally important that a psychiatrist is able to analyse the reactions of their patients and ensure that they are not caused more stress than is needed

  • Sensitivity and compassion – Psychiatrists must remember that they are , first and foremost healers – it is their responsibility to ensure the recovery and continued mental health of their patients. They must treat their patients with tolerance, dignity and understanding at all times.

  • Emotional stability- Working as a psychiatrist can be a highly stressful career and as such it takes a person with a solid emotional stability to be able to cope with the highly charged situations which can be presented in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

  • Detachment- As is the case with any health care profession a healthy level of detachment from your work is absolutely essential, not only to ensure that your patients receive the best possible care, but that you can maintain a good work life balance.

  • Excellent reasoning skills.  Good psychiatrists are able to use inductive reasoning to aid them in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. Inductive reasoning involves combining assorted bits of data or information, which are considered concurrently to reach a conclusion.  When psychiatrists take a series of events that appear to have no relation to each other and combine them to find a pattern, they are using inductive reasoning.


graduate employmentAs was mentioned above, all psychiatrists are fully qualified physicians, so the first step in your journey is to get a place studying medicine at university.  Those of you who are professional with medical specialties will know that it takes a very long time to become fully qualified (often well over a decade) and psychiatry is no different.

I’m sure I don’t have to impress upon you the high standards of qualifications which are expected of applicants for medical school in the UK…they are invariably very high. All universities will set their own standards on what they will accept, however it is generally the case that you will need to hold at least 3 A-Levels (at grade A or above) to include Chemistry and/or maths along with either Biology or Human Biology. So over prescribed are university medicine courses that they will often look to applicants’ GCSE results in order to differentiate between the best students.  In many instance,s universities will request a minimum number of top GCSE grades which much include English Language and maths.  If all goes to plan and you pass all of the components of your medical degree, you will have completed your PHD within 5 years of starting.

Once you have graduated you will need to complete a 2 year placement as a ‘foundation programme trainee within  a hospital, which extends the knowledge and skills you have gained as a medical student and lets you experience a number of different areas of specialization in preparation for your specialisation.

It is at this point that most doctors will choose their specialist area…those who elect to specialise in psychiatry will then go on to complete 6 years of speciality training and assessment afterwhich they will be able to apply for the role of consultant.

Best of luck if you still wish to become a psychiatrist. Otherwise why don’t you have a look at some of the other jobs in our career directory and see if any of them speak to you?


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