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Recruitment into forensic psychiatry, a cross sectional survey to identify attitudes and opinions of core trainees of this speciality

Kassia Lowe (ST6, Forensic Psychiatry, Birmingham, UK)
Fiona Hynes (Reaside Clinic, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, Birmingham, UK)

The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice

ISSN: 1755-6228

Article publication date: 11 July 2016




The purpose of this paper is to address and understand recruitment difficulties into psychiatry; however, to date there is no published research with respect to forensic psychiatry. Forensic psychiatry has always been considered to be a popular specialty amongst junior doctors and therefore the recent trend in local unfilled core training (CT) (junior doctor) posts and national reduced competition ratios for higher specialist training has triggered concern. The impact vacant CT posts within the Forensic Service may have on the future workforce must be considered. Further understanding of this trend is required.


A short statement-style survey addressing attitudes and opinions with respect to the field of forensic psychiatry was devised and distributed to all West Midlands core psychiatry trainees who attended post-graduate teaching (November 2014).


Response rate was 64 per cent. In total, 52 per cent of participants expressed an interest in the specialty, but only 13 per cent wished to pursue a career in forensic psychiatry. In total, 68 per cent of responses deemed forensic psychiatry to be a demanding speciality, with over 50 per cent perceiving forensic patients as difficult to work with. There were high rates of uncertain responses with respect to specialty work life. In total, 78 per cent of responses considered experience of the specialty to be useful.

Research limitations/implications

The method chosen to distribute the survey maximised response rate, but may have introduced a Hawthorne effect, as well as response bias, with the visual presence of the researcher. Participants were limited to those who attended teaching on the specified day. This could potentially skew results with an absence of opinions of non-attenders. It may be that characteristics and therefore attitudes and opinions of these two groups are different. A further limitation of the study is that opinions explored are limited to statements included within the survey.

Practical implications

The current views may represent stigma, negative media portrayal and misinformed opinions. Action must be taken to increase understanding, interest and experience. Increased exposure to the specialty needs to occur. This could occur as early as high school, using case-study exercises and career sessions. Teaching sessions, summer school placements and elective opportunities should be made available for medical students. At post-graduate level, taster days as well as earlier access to rotations may be a way forward.


Although entry into Forensic Higher Training remains comparatively competitive, the potential impact of vacant junior doctor (CT) posts within the speciality is concerning. This is likely to negatively influence recruitment into higher training, which may ultimately lead to decreased numbers of qualified forensic psychiatrists. Specialised care for such a risky and challenging patient group could thus be significantly compromised in the near future. Hence, it is vital to understand the current trend in order to act pre-emptively and address the underlying problems. To date no such research has been conducted.



Declaration of interest: None.

The authors wish to thank Dr Jayne Greening, Dr Erin Turner and Library Staff at BSMFHT for their support of this project.


Lowe, K. and Hynes, F. (2016), "Recruitment into forensic psychiatry, a cross sectional survey to identify attitudes and opinions of core trainees of this speciality", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 144-155.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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