Dr Joan Rutherford was appointed as a Salaried Member (Specialist Medical) of the First-tier Tribunal, Health, Education and Social Care Chamber (Mental Health) in August 2010.

The main purpose of the First-tier Tribunal (Mental Health) is to review the cases of patients detained under the Mental Health Act and to direct the discharge of any patients where the statutory criteria for discharge have been satisfied.   

"Having been a Consultant psychiatrist in the NHS for 17 years, I had been doing fee-paid (part-time) work for the tribunal since 2008 and it had become the highlight of my week. So when I saw the advert for the salaried (full-time) job, I thought I'll definitely apply for that. I had spent many years on the hospital side of the table at tribunals giving evidence, so sitting on the other side, looking at all the legal issues in relation to the clinical facts is fascinating.

"My role is Chief Medical Member and is split into 60% doing sittings (mainly in London and the South) and 40% management work. It has been a big change leaving my clinical and management work in the NHS, but a very good one.

"The selection day involved giving a presentation, spelling out the challenges for the role, with follow-up questions at interview from the panel. Beforehand, I thought about current management issues and what would make me stand out as being different. I rehearsed until I could complete the presentation in 30 seconds under the time limit!

"My advice for future candidates is to think not just about what the job is now, but also what it will be in three to five years’ time. On the application form, you need to put down facts to back up each statement. You are applying for a judicial role, so you need to give evidence of your ability. Also, do research into the tribunal system before you apply.

"Now is a very interesting time to be a doctor in the tribunal. My current work includes exploring options for appraisal and re-validation of medical members. In terms of tribunal hearings, I sit on the same types of cases as the other medical members. The vast majority of patients are suffering from a psychiatric illness, for example schizophrenia. The medical member's role, along with the legal member and a lay specialist, is to decide whether the patient should be detained. A three-day induction is provided and doctors observe tribunal hearings before they sit.

"A high point for me has been inducting the intake of 44 new fee-paid medical members at the end of last year. They have to become judges as well as doctors – they are there to give a judicial view. How often do you get the chance for a career change like this?"