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Why choose psychiatry as a career?


.Download our infographic
Outlines the benefits of specialising in psychiatry.

Psychiatry is an attractive and exciting career choice that provides an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of patients. Almost 50% of Australians will experience an episode of mental illness in their lifetime, with almost one in five suffering at any one time.

Our minds are incredibly complex, as are our social and cultural interactions. We live in an exciting era of neuroscience and our understanding of the workings of the brain are more advanced than ever before with the brain continuing to be the subject of much innovative and groundbreaking research and exploration.

The frequency of mental illness together with new research and innovation ensures that psychiatry plays an increasingly important role in medicine and society.

.Video: Psychiatrists talk about their work
A diverse range of psychiatrists talk about why they chose to go into psychiatry as a specialty, and why they're passionate about their work.

Flexibility and work–life balance

Psychiatry provides real opportunities to build a flexible and rewarding career including:

  • flexible training arrangements that allow psychiatrists to manage their training and career while being able to factor in family needs
  • working hours closer to normal business hours, with less frequent on-call shifts
  • opportunities to live and train overseas.

Research from 2012 also suggests that psychiatry is also one of the best financially rewarded careers in Australia today, with psychiatry placing in the top 10 earning jobs in the country and psychiatrists earning more than many of their medical colleagues.

It's been important to me to have a life as well as a career, and psychiatry is one of the medical professions that lets you do that.

Dr Lucinda Smith (Melbourne)

Evidence-based and outcomes-focused

Just like other medical specialties, modern psychiatry is based on and shaped by scientific evidence. The depth and breadth of literature underpinning modern psychiatry is rapidly expanding, and the effectiveness of therapeutic measures – pharmacological, psychological or otherwise – is judged based on carefully measured outcomes.

As a result of the recent emphasis on evidence-based practice, enormous gains have been made in the results patients experience, and modern psychiatric treatments can vastly improve the lives of people with mental illness. As a psychiatrist, it’s not uncommon to help patients who – in the past – might have been institutionalised indefinitely, but who are these days able to live at home, continue working, and have functional relationships.

Thanks to their medical training, psychiatrists are uniquely placed to integrate the various factors that contribute to mental health, be they biological, psychological, social or behavioural. Evaluating evidence, considering the impact of a mental illness on overall health and vice versa, provide some of the intellectual challenges that make psychiatry so rewarding.

I get to meet with extraordinary people who have overcome amazing adversities and you see people who are really in a very difficult spot recover quickly and get back on with their lives.

Dr James Scott (Brisbane)

Be part of a new era in psychiatry

Psychiatric research offers the chance to make real differences to people’s lives and their communities. Research is a challenging environment that touches on the very basis of what it is that makes us human.

New technologies offer powerful new insights into the pathophysiology of psychiatric illnesses and RANZCP Fellows are among world leaders in psychiatric research.

Technology is also playing an increasing part in the delivery of effective treatments. Initiatives such as telepsychiatry enable psychiatric services to be delivered remotely, which is of real benefit for rural communities. Australia and New Zealand have been international leaders in the development and application of telepsychiatry techniques.

Because we know that as well as genes and chemistry affecting the brain so much, learning affects the brain and relationships affect the brain, so the need for psychiatrists to be special people – that’ll never change.

Prof. Greg O'Brien (Brisbane)

A career with variety

Psychiatry is a diverse discipline. Every client is unique and no two people have the same story or psychiatric presentation. There are many different symptoms and causes of mental ill health and a wide variety of treatments available.

Psychiatry involves working closely with a range of allied health professionals and addresses a range of cultural issues.

Psychiatrists can work in metropolitan or regional settings, in the public sector, or as a private practitioner. The range of subspecialties covers all developmental stages of life and a variety of social needs. Many psychiatrists also have academic interests, and are active in teaching and research.

There is a huge variety of things you can potentially do, everything from being a solo practitioner in your own little office to working with a team, working in a hospital, working in the community.

Dr Nick Judson (Wellington)

Play a leading role in mental health

Psychiatrists play a vital leadership role within multidisciplinary teams. Many people who have mental disorders also need treatment for other medical issues. This can involve input from a range of other health professionals, such as GPs, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists or social workers.

Psychiatrists’ holistic understanding of the physical, mental, social and behavioural aspects of mental health problems allows them to recognise and treat both the physical and emotional effects of mental disorders. Such disorders might be a patient’s main illness or problem, or may be a consequence of other physical ailments.

For Australian Indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workers perform a crucial role in forming bridges between cultures, acting as mediators between western and traditional medical systems and assisting in treatment and consultations, working with the family, community and traditional healers if necessary.  In New Zealand, psychiatrists work closely with Maori and Pacific health professionals and cultural advisors to offer care incorporating traditional models and perspectives, often involving extended family members.

Psychiatrists also work collaboratively in other areas, such as the justice system and prisons.

Effective mental health care requires collaboration between patients and a variety of health professionals. Teamwork provides continuity of care, an overview of the consumer’s networks and problems, a broad range of skills, mutual support and education.


There have been so many opportunities, and that goes from the very basic direct clinical work to the big picture world famous stuff, and at the heart of it there’s the thinking – I love it.

Prof. Greg O'Brien (Brisbane)