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John Crichton - My Working Life

Published on: 22 Jun 2023

My Working Life: John Crichton


What did you want to be when you were at school/growing up? If it was different, why did you change your mind?

Probably inspired by the TV series ‘All Creatures Great and Small,’ I wanted to be a vet. One week of work experience and chasing a young bullock around a muddy field made that aspiration evaporate.


What 3 factors make you skip into work? 

I have not knowingly skipped in thirty years, but I look forward to a breakfast roll with colleagues, supporting patients to move on in their recovery and the successes of the next generation of young psychiatrists – especially those whom I’ve had the privilege of supervising.


What are the main 3 factors that make you frustrated at work? 

I get frustrated by the degradation of facilities from the closed library to the introduction of vending machines. Consultants have less agency in how services are planned and delivered and I despair at the nonsense economics which demands year-on-year efficiency savings.


Why would you recommend your career to a young person? What positive aspects would you highlight?

I am grateful that I can spend time with my patients – some I have known for decades and that continuity of care is invaluable.  People think forensic psychiatry is all about curtailing liberty of others but, rather, it is about setting people free. There is no better career for those interested in psychiatry, law and ethics. 


What has been your biggest career disappointment or challenge and why, and how did you overcome it?

I oversaw the revitalisation of a failing service and supported underperforming colleagues to transform what they did to improve patient care. My secret weapon was buying M&S lunch for our regular team reviews and taking the time to listen and understand their experience.


What was your best career move?

Taking time out at an early stage of my career to undertake research – my aim was always primarily to be a better psychiatrist and improve patient care.


Can you describe your work/what you do in 1 sentence?

Assessing and treating people who are appearing before the criminal courts, providing psychiatric treatment in secure settings and supporting those at risk of inflicting violence on others to remain safe in the community.


What qualities do you think you need to do your job well?

I have a knack of getting people to talk, whether that’s in the police cell or in the queue at Disneyland Paris, along with the gift of empathy. I have a good biographical memory but don’t ask me to recall anyone’s name.


What 3 words would your colleagues use to describe you?

I asked. “Erudite, learned and kind” – bless ‘em.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever got from a patient or work colleague? 

Keep any new service business case to hand, even if it appears to be going nowhere – you never know when the opportunity may arise to see an innovation flourish.


If you could go back in time and give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would it be? 

Try not to worry – things will work out OK.


What do you do to relax/de-stress?

Listen to podcasts or audiobooks whilst gardening.


Is the thought of retirement a dream or a nightmare – and why?

We tell our patients about the importance of occupation every day yet fantasise about not working – I’ve taken my own medicine and retired and returned with no regrets.


On a typical day, what do you eat for lunch, where and how long is your break?

If I’ve been lucky enough to start the day with a breakfast roll, then it's salad for lunch with colleagues or “al desko”.


Where are you happiest and why?

Whenever I see a patient heading for home, discharged after a long period in hospital.


Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor?

Never – I cannot see myself doing anything else.


Your most treasured possession and why?

My insulin pump – life may be sweeter without it, but much shorter.



John Hugh McDiarmid Crichton is an NHS consultant forensic psychiatrist at Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Scotland.

After graduating in medicine from University of Nottingham in 1990, he undertook psychiatry training at the University of Cambridge. He became a member of The Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1996. In the same year he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy from Trinity Hall and the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge for his research exploring responses to inpatient violence and rule breaking.

In 1998 he became the clinical lead for the Orchard Clinic, Scotland’s first medium-secure mental health unit and remained there until 2021, when he retired. He has returned in a part-time role, employed by NHS Lothian, working in community forensic psychiatry and for a mental health service for veterans.

Widely published, he has written three books, contributed 16 book chapters and published more than 50 academic papers. He is also a researcher and campaigner on knife control and violence reduction.

A former chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland and vice-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK, he is the current treasurer of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. 

His honorary advisory roles include the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the International Committee of the Red Cross.