Working life (liaison psychiatry)
The work of a consultant liaison psychiatrist is varied and unpredictable. In an average day you would expect to see patients with several different psychiatric problems.
In most liaison psychiatry teams, the doctors usually work from 9am to 5pm, and then participate in a pool of doctors providing an on-call service for adult psychiatry, which would include the inpatient psychiatric wards, as well as cover for the general hospital and emergency department.
Most liaison psychiatrists are based in an acute or general hospital. The number of patients seen in a day varies depending on the type of patient and setting within the hospital.
Liaison psychiatrists work as part of large multidisciplinary teams.
They work with:
- physicians and surgeons
- general nurses
- clinical and health psychologists
- specialist mental health nurses sometimes known as psychiatric liaison nurses, or PLNs).
- community practice nurses
- occupational therapists
- social workers
- medical secretaries and administrative staff
You will need to feel confident assessing people across the whole range of psychiatric diagnoses, and until you arrive at work in the morning you won’t know which patients (with which diagnoses) are going to be referred to you. This makes the work interesting, varied and challenging.
Another attraction of the role is ensuring the provision of high quality mental health care within the setting of a general hospital. Liaison psychiatrists often see people when they are at their most vulnerable but by taking time to communicate, the contact with patients and their families can be rewarding as well as therapeutic. The diversity of clinical problems encountered is another important factor in making the job stimulating and enjoyable.
Liaison psychiatrists often work between two NHS Trusts – a mental health trust and a general hospital trust, and this can result in cultural misunderstandings. A psychiatrist’s communication skills are important in managing the relationship between the two organisations.
Liaison psychiatrists have two client groups – individual patients, and the staff of the acute hospital, meaning that much of the work involves providing an opinion for clinicians working in another specialty. Understanding the needs and the culture of the acute hospital is essential to the work of a liaison psychiatrist.