Working life (General psychiatry)

This page provides useful information about the roles and responsibilities of specialists in general psychiatry, where they work, who they work with and what they feel about their role.

“The work of a psychiatrist is always engaging and challenging, sometimes moving, occasionally frustrating but often rewarding, sometimes when this is least expected. I would have no hesitation in recommending it as a career choice to anyone who is interested in people and the relationships between them.” (Consultant psychiatrist)

“I enjoy the diversity offered by general psychiatry. It’s wonderful working with a variety of professionals, and treating a number of differing psychiatric illnesses using drug treatments as well as psychotherapies.” (Consultant psychiatrist)

How your time is spent

A typical referral from a GP to a psychiatrist may take around an hour and a full psychiatric assessment involves a careful review of the person’s mental and physical health, and the person’s background, past physical and mental health and current social situation, and thoughts.

The psychiatrist will usually gather information from others including GPs and other professionals where this is available and will seek the opinion of relatives or carers with the patient’s permission.  They will seek to establish a common understanding of the problems with the patient and others and integrate all the information obtained into a diagnostic formulation, including assessment of any risks.

This will then form the basis for an initial management plan which may include further investigations such as blood tests or scans and a decision about how and where any interventions will take place.

On call and working hours

The working hours in general psychiatry often follow a regular Monday-Friday daytime pattern. On call work, especially at associate specialist or consultant level is generally less onerous than other medical and surgical specialties. Nearly all training posts involve out of hours working, either shift working or non-resident on call. Consultants are usually the second or third person on call only. The regular work pattern enables an excellent work-life balance.

General psychiatrists may see in-patients in a hospital setting, or work within the community.  Hospital work can include ward rounds for acute or long-term patients as well as outpatient clinics. New patients may have appointments lasting an hour, considerably longer than appointments given in other medical specialties. Follow-up appointments may last around 20 or 30 minutes.

Most consultant psychiatrists have around ten hours allocated each week for non-clinical activities including research and audit. Teaching is also part of this work, either at a local or regional/national level.

The EU Working Time Directive limits the working week to 48 hours. It is also possible to work part-time once you are consultant, or to train on a less than full-time basis (conditions apply).

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