Liaison psychiatry

Liaison psychiatrists work at the interface between physical and psychological health, providing psychiatric care to medical patients.

Liaison psychiatry is a young and emerging sub-specialty of general psychiatry.

Life as a liaison psychiatrist

Your role will be to diagnose and manage patients with a wide range of mental health problems. 

You’ll work with physically ill people and the healthcare professionals who care for them. This means you’ll manage patients with multiple, long-term chronic health conditions and liaise with clinical staff in other specialties.

Most of your patients will be of working age (18 to 65 years old) and attending general hospital, emergency departments and outpatients. Although, increasingly, patients are seen in the community and through primary care services.

On hospital wards, you’ll provide an assessment and treatment of a patient or advise other healthcare staff how to manage a patient. Often a patient will be confused or experiencing dementia and you’ll need perseverance and excellent communication skills. 

In emergency departments, you’ll work closely with emergency medical staff and other clinicians to assess and treat people for a wide range of conditions including alcohol- and drug-related issues, acute psychosis and self-harm. Patients may be taking numerous medicines and you’ll need to collaborate with medical colleagues to determine treatment.

A significant part of your role will be to provide informal and formal teaching and training to hospital colleagues.

Common mental health disorders you’ll treat include:

  • acute psychosis
  • alcohol and drug addictions
  • anxiety
  • delirium
  • dementia
  • depression
  • eating disorders
  • neuropsychiatric disorders
  • perinatal mental health problems
  • self-harm

How much can I earn?

You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £32,398 to £37,303. Once you start your specialty training in the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £43,923, which can increase to between £93,666 and £126,281 as a consultant.

How about the benefits?

  • make a difference
  • flexible and part-time working
  • high income early in your career
  • work anywhere in the world
  • excellent pension scheme
  • good holiday entitlement
  • NHS discounts in shops and restaurants

Must-have skills

  • excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues, and patients and their families
  • emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure
  • teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams
  • problem-solving and diagnostic skills
  • outstanding organisational ability and effective decision-making skills
  • first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients

In addition, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate:

  • empathy and compassion and the ability to treat others with understanding and respect
  • excellent listening skills

Entry requirements

Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics.

If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine.

You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.

Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application.

“I treat patients with delirium, dementia and severe depression. They often have multiple and severe physical and mental health problems”. 

Read Jude’s story.

How to become a liaison psychiatrist

After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.

After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training to become a liaison psychiatrist, which will take a minimum of six years.

You may be able to train part time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities.

Where a career as a liaison psychiatrist can take you

You could: 
  • specialise or conduct research in areas such as cures for dementia
  • teach medical students or postgraduate students in training
  • get involved in research at universities, the NHS or private sector

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