Ask the Graduate: Clinical Forensic Psychiatrist

RO Central Team - Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Posted 3 months ago

February 2021 

A day in the life of Anna, a Clinical Forensic Psychiatrist 

What is a forensic psychiatrist?

Forensic psychiatrists assess and treat individuals with mental health problems, who have committed offences or behaved in ways that have endangered or harmed others. Most forensic psychiatrists work in secure hospitals, but others work in prisons or in the community.

I work in a community forensic team, along with other psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists, support workers and administrative staff. We work together to support individuals with mental health problems who have displayed risky behaviours. We offer treatments including medication, psychology and social interventions to help these individuals to live independently in the community. Appointments are usually carried out in pairs.

A typical day

A typical day at work might start with an appointment to see a new or existing patient. The appointment might occur at our team base, but it might also occur at the patient’s home, in hospital, in prison or by video or telephone.

Later, I may meet with a junior psychiatrist or a medical student to provide a teaching session. Also, I could meet with manager colleagues to discuss new developments in psychiatry, and new ways we can help our patients. There are always new things to learn about in psychiatry.

Over lunch, I might attend a teaching session with other psychiatrists. Alternatively, I might have a more relaxed catch up with colleagues.

In the afternoon, there could be a meeting with the police, probation and social services, about a complex individual. We work together to find the most appropriate way to support the individual and also to protect the public. Finally, I might have an appointment to see somebody who is facing criminal charges, so that I can write a psychiatric report to assist the courts. Sometimes I am asked to attend court too.

I generally finish work at 5pm, but around once every two weeks I am ‘on call’ from home for a 24-hour period and am available to assist with urgent matters that arise.

The good bits and the bad bits

The most challenging aspects of my job are that it can involve having difficult conversations, making tough decisions and hearing about sad or unpleasant events. The best thing about my job is that it is really rewarding to feel that I have made a positive difference in a person’s life. Also, it is varied and challenging, I have freedom to make my own decisions, I get to work with amazing colleagues and I earn good money. When I’m not at work I spend time with family and friends and enjoy travelling, music and sports. Earning good money means that I have been able to see the world with my family and friends.

If you are interested…

All psychiatrists are medical doctors, and so the first step on the way to becoming a forensic psychiatrist is to complete A-levels (or equivalent) and get into medical school. I went to a comprehensive school and was the first person in my family to go to University, and there were other people like me at medical school too.

After finishing your medical degree comes two years of junior medical training. This typically involves working in six different areas of medicine. My jobs included working in general practice, accident and emergency, cardiology and colorectal surgery.

After this you select the area of medicine that you would like to specialise in. I selected psychiatry. I completed three years of general psychiatric training and then three years of forensic psychiatric training. It was really interesting being able to work in a variety of teams and settings during training. After completing training, I was able to get a job as a consultant forensic psychiatrist.

Q&A with Anna 

Read on for Anna's answers to your questions. 

When did you know that psychiatry was the area you wanted to pursue?

I remember that even before I started medical school I had been interested in mental health. When I started clinical placements at medical school, I realised that I wanted to work in an area where I would have the time to have in-depth conversations with patients and where I would be able to work with the same patients over a long period of time. I had therefore decided before finishing medical school that I would aim to be a consultant psychiatrist

Lots of medical students aren’t sure what they would like to specialise in when they graduate. One of the great things about medical school is that during placements you get the chance to experience what it would be like to work in all different area of medicine.
How did you know you had what it takes to get into Medicine and succeed?

I’m not sure that I did know!

I think I just tried to do everything that I could do to maximise the chances of succeeding. For example, I worked hard at school, I did some voluntary work at the local hospital and I took part in extra-curricular activities. I asked friends, family and teachers for advice on my medical school application and I remember thinking that it ended up reading fairly well.
If you are not offered an interview at your preferred medical school, then consider writing or emailing to ask what you would need to do to strengthen your application if you were to reapply.

How competitive is Clinical Forensic Psychiatry?

Psychiatry has tended to be one of the less competitive areas of medicine. However, within the field of psychiatry, forensic psychiatry is one of the more competitive sub-specialties.

What do you like the most about your job?

The best thing about my job is that it is really rewarding to feel that I have made a positive difference in a person’s life.

What’s been the impact from the pandemic on your job?

Since the pandemic hit, I have had to adapt and use technology to have contact with patients and colleagues. Many appointments and meetings have been happening via telephone or video-call, rather than face to face. When I have had face to face appointments and meetings, personal protective equipment has been necessary.

Due to being less able to offer face to face appointments, and because some supportive community-based activities have been suspended, it has also become more difficult to support patients in the community. This has meant that sadly some patients have become unwell, and needed to go in to hospital.
If you could do another job what would it be?

Training to become and doctor, and working as a psychiatrist, leads to the development of skills that would be transferable to other professions. These skills include problem solving, team working, communication, time management and leadership.

If I were not a doctor, then I would still want to work in a role that involved speaking with and helping a variety of people. I have thought that I might have enjoyed being a holiday planner, helping people to book their dream holidays.