Psychiatry is a tempting career for many interested in medicine. It’s a respected medical specialism, and offers challenge and reward over the course of a whole career, with successful psychiatrists ending up prestigious research and management positions after their years on the frontline.
However, qualifying as a psychiatrist is a no easy journey. Their more academic cousins, psychologists have a comparatively easy journey, and that still includes a specialised degree in psychology, and post-graduate study before they can start looking for psychology jobs.
If you’re planning to become a psychiatrist, you need to remember that means becoming a specialist doctor, and your training begins as it does with all medical students: with a five-year course at a university, including rotations in hospitals and work with patients. As part of your studies as a medical student this you’ll do a rotation with a psychiatry team so you’ll get some more insight into whether this is really for you.
To get onto this initial training course, you will need the right A-Levels and GCSEs. Different institutions have different entry requirements so the best thing to do is check with your preferred place of study, but as a guide it’s good to focus on maths and science so you’ve got the building blocks in place that medical training will focus on.
Once you’re a medical student, you can join the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This gives you access to their networking events, where you can meet experienced psychiatrists, which are useful for advice, guidance and mentoring, and all their career resources for helping you make your way forward.
After qualification from your five years of training, before you can begin your specialist studies, you will need to spend two years in ‘foundation training’ in the NHS. While you’ll be studying all this time and tested regularly, you will be working for the NHS which means you will be paid for your work! Connections you’ve made with more senior psychiatrists may allow you to get some useful training attachments in this time: while all in foundation training will spend some time attached to psychiatric teams, knowing you want to work towards psychiatry as an endpoint should help you get some particularly valuable training placements.
Following your foundation training years, you can begin to specialise. This takes place over six years, as you continue to work for the NHS, gaining experience by working in your chosen field, and also studying academically for qualifications that allow you to practise. The six years of training are often split into two sets of three, but there are opportunities to apply for all six at once, guaranteeing your way through the course.
After this long journey you will be a fully qualified psychiatrist, able to follow any opportunity and with a career that will challenge and reward you throughout your life!
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