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Career profile: Psychiatrist

Career profile: PsychiatristGet the lowdown on what the job involves, what qualifications you need and how long it takes to train.

A what?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who has specialised in mental health problems such as depression, phobias, schizophrenia and eating disorders.

On the job

Psychiatrists often focus on a particular subject or age group, which really determines what their working life will be like. The sub-specialities of psychiatry include:

  • General adult psychiatry
  • The psychiatry of learning difficulties
  • Old age psychiatry
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Psychotherapy
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry

Many psychiatrists practice in the NHS. The job doesn’t involve as much modern technology as other branches of medicine. Instead, psychiatrists have to rely on their clinical skills to diagnose their patients and decide what treatment would be most suitable.

Course entry requirements

You need to qualify as a medical doctor before training as a psychiatrist.

For the five-year medical degree, the majority of medical schools require A-levels in chemistry, whilst others will accept AS level in chemistry, depending upon the other qualifications being offered. Some require biology at A-level.

For candidates without science subjects to offer at A-level (or equivalent), it is possible to undertake an additional pre-medical year at some universities (see section training to be a doctor). The pre-medical year is a preliminary course in chemistry, physics and biology and lasts normally 30 weeks. Other equivalent qualifications can be accepted, such as a BTEC higher national diploma, GNVQs, and the International Baccalaureate.

For candidates without A-levels there are small number of access courses which can lead on into a medical degree.

The entry requirements for degree courses vary a great deal so check with the institution you’re interested in applying to, especially as some do not accept the access course entry route.

What does the training involve?

Speciality training (in psychiatry, for example) can begin in the third year after graduating. Basic psychiatric training usually takes three years and this is when doctors who wish to do so take the Membership examinations of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Following this, you will be ready for Higher Training as a Specialist Registrar. During this period, you will choose which of the six psychiatric speciality areas you wish to concentrate upon during the next three/ four years.

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