Psychiatry of intellectual disability (PID)

Psychiatrists working in intellectual disability assess and treat people with intellectual or learning disabilities. 

This can include the assessment and management of neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity, autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy.

Life as an intellectual disability psychiatrist

People with intellectual disability (sometimes called learning disability) are more likely to have mental health problems so you’ll provide patient-centric care to improve their quality of life. 

Your patients will usually be adults aged over 18 years as younger patients tend to be seen by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. 

You’ll be required to adopt a holistic approach as patients with intellectual disability often have physical conditions such as cerebral palsy or epilepsy. 

Patients often present non-specifically. For example, they demonstrate withdrawal or a change in behaviour. You’ll need to investigate and establish the cause in your diagnosis. 

Common mental health conditions you’ll treat include:

  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder
  • depression
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • schizophrenia

You’ll work as part of a multidisciplinary team and be expected to collaborate with colleagues and a patient’s family and carers.

Psychiatry is an interesting academic discipline, whether you are interested in the biological basis of mental health problems (e.g. dementia in people with Down’s syndrome, behavioural phenotypes of genetic disorders), or the development of innovative service models or forensic aspects of intellectual disability.

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, intellectual disability psychiatrists need to demonstrate:

  • empathy and compassion and the ability to treat others with understanding and respect
  • respect for people with intellectual disabilities and the contribution they make to society
  • patience
  • excellent listening skills
  • willingness to build relationships with their patients

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.

What are my chances of starting a career in psychiatry of intellectual disability?

In 2021, there were 254 consultants in psychiatry of intellectual disability working in the NHS in England. In 2020, there were 30 applications for 52 training places.

How to become an intellectual disability 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 an intellectual disability 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 an intellectual disability psychiatrist can take you

You could: 
  • specialise or conduct research
  • teach medical students or postgraduate students in training
  • get involved in research at universities, the NHS or private sector

Other roles that may interest you

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