The Job and What's Involved

Psychiatrists are qualified doctors who look after patients with mental health problems. Patients may suffer from a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, personality, behavioural or eating disorders, drug or alcohol problems, dementia, schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

Psychiatrists begin their work by assessing each patient's condition. This involves taking a full medical and personal history, making a physical examination and talking to them to gauge their mental state. They also use various psychiatric tests. Psychiatrists then devise a treatment plan individually tailored to each patient. Treatment can include prescribing medication, therapy such as psychotherapy or counselling, or liaising with other professionals to bring about positive changes in the patient's environment and lifestyle. Occasionally, physical treatment such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used.

Psychiatrists usually specialise in a particular field, such as:

  • General adult psychiatry.
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry.
  • Old age psychiatry.
  • Forensic psychiatry (working with people with mental illnesses who commit crimes).
  • Psychotherapy (using "talking treatments" rather than prescribing medicines).
  • Addiction psychiatry (working with people who misuse substances).
  • Learning disabilities.

They work closely with a wide range of other health professionals. These include clinical psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists.

Working hours vary. Some psychiatrists work regular office hours, Monday to Friday. Others work shifts and provide on-call duties to ensure 24-hour emergency cover, seven days a week. Part-time and flexible hours are often available. Work locations include hospitals, patients' homes, residential centres and prisons.

Psychiatrists in specialty training earn between £28,976 and £45,562 a year. This may be increased by "banding supplements".

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 4,200 consultant psychiatrists in England. Most work in the National Health Service (NHS). There are also opportunities in private medicine, the prison service and the armed forces. There is usually intense competition for consultant posts.

Education and Training

To become a psychiatrist, it is first necessary to study for a degree in medicine. Medical degrees normally take five years, although there are some four-year and six-year courses. For more general information about becoming a doctor, see the job guide for a Doctor.

Medical degree courses are offered by a number of medical schools throughout the UK. See the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website for the full list of courses at

A Few More Exams You Might Need

When doctors have completed their medical degree they undertake a two-year foundation programme of general training. Towards the end of the programme they decide whether to train in psychiatry or in a different specialty.

Specialty psychiatry training takes six years and leads to entry to the General Medical Council specialist register. Psychiatrists can then to apply for a senior post as a consultant.

Featured Job Guide - Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.

Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A psychiatrist should:

  • Be interested in how people think and feel.
  • Enjoy using scientific methods to investigate complex conditions.
  • Have a logical approach to problem solving.
  • Be patient and tactful.
  • Have scientific ability and be able to absorb and draw on large amounts of scientific and technical information.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Have the ability to put people at their ease and inspire their trust and confidence.
  • Have compassion, but with some detachment to cope with emotional stress.
  • Be able to work well in, and lead, a team.
  • Be able to work under pressure and make quick, clear decisions.
  • Work consistently to high professional standards.
  • Be prepared continually to update knowledge and learn new techniques.

Your Long Term Prospects

Psychiatrists usually have to move between hospitals to progress.

Get Further Information

The Royal College of Psychiatrists,
17 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PG
Tel: 020 7235 2351

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources