Career insights: Become a Psychiatrist
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The need for psychiatrists is higher than ever before as the UK faces its greatest mental health crisis to date. In the UK alone, there are over 1.5 million people waiting for mental health treatment - but this poses a huge logistical issue because there is only 1 qualified psychiatrist for every 12,567 people[i]. This disproportionate statistic means waiting lists are extraordinarily long, with many people's mental health worsening as they wait months or, usually, years to start talking therapies and similar treatments.
If you want to help people to live a happier, more fulfilled life, psychiatry could be perfect for you. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about how to become a psychiatrist in the UK.
What does a psychiatrist do?
A psychiatrist does a lot more than just talk to people who are facing difficulties with their mental health. Before you learn how to become a psychiatrist, you need to know what the role of a psychiatrist entails.
There are broadly two types of psychiatry – medical and psychological. Medical psychiatrists are doctors who have completed training in psychiatry. They treat mental illness using medication and other medical interventions.
Psychological psychiatrists are therapists who use talk therapy to treat mental illness. They may also use other techniques, such as art therapy or play therapy. Most psychiatrists will specialise in a specific area of psychiatry. These can include:
- Child/Adolescent - This area of psychiatry focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in children and teenagers
- Adult - This area of psychiatry focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in adults.
- Elderly - This area of psychiatry focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in older adults.
- Psychotherapy - This area of psychiatry focuses on the use of talking therapy to treat mental illness – either on its own, or alongside medication
There are several settings that you might work from as a psychiatrist. These include:
- Hospitals - You might work in a hospital setting, either as an inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient psychiatry focuses on the treatment of patients who are admitted to hospital for treatment. Outpatient psychiatry focuses on the treatment of patients who are not admitted to hospital, but who attend appointments at the hospital.
- Community mental health teams - You might work in a community setting, such as a GP surgery or community mental health centre. You would work with people living in the community who have mental illness.
- Private practice - You might choose to set up your own private practice or work within one that is already established. Generally, people will self-refer to private practices and pay for treatment directly, rather than going through the NHS.
The salary of a psychiatrist starts at around £28,243 in the first year on the job and can become as high as £49,036 for a specialist, and £110,683 for an experienced consultant[ii].
Year 1: £28,243
Year 2: £32,691
Fully trained with a speciality: £38,694 - £49,036
Psychiatric consultant: £82,096 - £110,683
How to become a psychiatrist
Unlike therapists, you cannot become a psychiatrist without the correct qualifications as it is a medical profession that requires complete medical training.
This is the recommended pathway into becoming a psychiatrist
In order to become a psychiatrist, you will need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by a four-year medical degree. To be accepted onto a medical degree, you will usually need to complete a three-year degree in science, pharmacy, or another health-related subject.
- Foundation Training
Once you have completed your degree, you will need to complete two years of Foundation Training. During this time, you will rotate through various medical and surgical specialties, including psychiatry. This will provide invaluable experience that can't be obtained from the classroom.
- Psychiatry Training
After completing your Foundation Training, you will then need to complete a 6-year psychiatry training program. During this time, you will spend years 1,2 and 3 experiencing various psychiatric sub-specialties, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.
This will give you a taste of all the different types of psychiatry, giving you an idea of which you'd like to pursue. In your final years, you will focus on your chosen specialism. Many people choose two areas to focus on, adding another 2 years on top of their training.
- Workplace Assessments and Examinations
You will need to complete workplace-based assessments, which ensure that you are competent to work as a psychiatrist. You will need to pass your Royal College of Psychiatrists' membership examinations, which are taken at the very end of your training. After completing your training and passing your examinations, you will be a fully qualified psychiatrist!
- Join the Register
In order to practise as a psychiatrist in the UK, you will need to be registered with the General Medical Council, which is the next step after completing your training and obtaining all of your qualifications. You will need to renew your registration every year and pay a fee annually.
- Apply for Jobs
After you have completed all of your training and registered with the GMC, you can begin applying for jobs! Psychiatrists are in high demand, so you shouldn't struggle to find a position. You should have a lot of contacts after your many years of studying, so get in touch with your network to see if there are positions available that they are aware of.
Becoming a psychiatrist requires a lot of hard work and 100% commitment. If you like the idea of helping people but aren’t sure whether you want to commit to years of studying, you might consider completing one or two psychology courses online first. This will give you an idea of what is involved in this profession.
In addition to the necessary qualifications, there are certain skills that will make you successful in this field. Without having compassion, patience, and empathy, you will not be able to function as a psychiatrist.
- Communication & rapport building
You must have outstanding communication skills, as you will be dealing with patients who may be going through a difficult time. Being able to build rapport with patients (and colleagues!) is an absolute must. They need to trust you completely.
Empathy is key in psychiatry. You need to be able to understand how your patients are feeling and what they are going through. If you find yourself becoming annoyed when people are upset or emotional, psychiatry is not right for you.
Psychiatry can be a slow process, particularly when treating conditions such as depression and anxiety. You need to be understanding, and extremely patient. Some clients may not be ready to open up straight away.
- Problem-solving skills
There is no one-size-fits-all approach in psychiatry. Every patient is different, and so you need to be able to tailor your approach to everyone. You also need to be creative in your problem solving and thinking outside the box, as some cases may be quite complex.
Is being a psychiatrist worthwhile?
Yes! Despite the 10+ years of training involved in becoming a psychiatrist, it is an extremely rewarding profession. No two days are the same, and you'll get incredible satisfaction from helping people through their mental health problems. It is very emotionally demanding, so you need to have a strong mind yourself to get far in psychiatry, but it is one of the best careers available for anyone who has a natural urge to care for others.