Career Planning

How to Become a Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a doctor that can prescribe medication.

Shawna Newman

May 20, 2022

Learn what it takes to become a psychiatrist.
How to Become a Psychiatrist
It takes a lot of thought to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, and for most students, the career planning process begins in the first years of high school. Yet, it’s not uncommon for many students to still be working through this big, life decision as a college freshman or sophomore. So, you want to become a psychiatrist and you have a few career path questions, including how you are going to fund the education to get the title. Let’s dive into the path you will take to become a psychiatrist.

What does a psychiatrist do?

A psychiatrist is a medical professional that helps people with mental health conditions and mental disorders. Because psychiatry covers a wide range of conditions and disorders, many psychiatrists specialize in a specific area. Some of these conditions include:
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Eating Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • In addition to holding an advanced doctoral degree, psychiatrists are empathetic and caring individuals. Good bedside manners are important for doctors in the psychiatry field. A psychiatrist will discuss patient symptoms, order lab tests, and make other assessments to help identify patient needs. If medical treatment is required, she or he will lead this treatment plan.

    What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

    A psychologist and psychiatrist are not the same. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor or physician that holds a Doctorate degree. He or she has patients and can legally prescribe medication and medical treatments. GoodTherapy adds, “this allows them to prescribe psychotropic medication.” A Psychologist holds an advanced degree in a similar area of study; psychology is understanding human behavior and mental processes. However, a psychologist generally holds a masters degree and has clients rather than patients. Psychologists cannot prescribe medications to their clients.

    How long does it take to become a psychiatrist?

    It takes about 12 years of post-secondary education to become a psychiatrist. Following high school graduation, plan for four years in college, four years in medical school and a four-year residency.

    What are the steps to becoming a psychiatrist?

    There are five steps to becoming a psychiatrist. Below is the educational path a student should take in order to be a practicing psychiatrist:
    1. Get your bachelor's degree. There are several undergraduate degree programs designed for students on an advanced degree path. If you are interested in becoming a psychiatrist, consider the following majors: • Bachelor of Science in Biology-Pre-Medicine Emphasis • Bachelor of Science in Psychology • Bachelor of Science in Public Health • Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry • Other Pre-Med Degree Programs
    2. Take the Medical School Entrance Exam (MCAT) You will need to sit for the MCAT exam in order to apply to a med-school program. The MCAT is part of the medical school admissions process. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), this MCAT is a standardized exam composed of four sections. The MCAT test takes approximately eight hours to complete and score requirements vary from med school to med school. GoodTherapy claims, “The average score for accepted applicants is 511 out of 528 points total.”
    3. Apply and attend medical school with a psychiatry program. If you are set on a specific medical school to attend for your masters and doctoral degrees, be sure to check with an admissions representative from that university to ensure your bachelor's degree and/or medical school resume is acceptable. If your educational background doesn't fit the minimum admittance requirements, you may be expected to complete more courses. The last thing you would want to do is add more years of education to your plan. You will also need to decide what type of medical degree you would like: • M.D. - A Doctor of Medicine that graduates from a conventional medical school. • D.O. - A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine is a fully trained doctor that graduates from an osteopathic medical school. Popular medical schools specializing in psychiatry include: • Grand Canyon University: Phoenix, AZ | Grand Canyon University ScholarshipsHarvard University: Cambridge, MA | Harvard ScholarshipsColumbia University: New York, NY | Columbia University ScholarshipsJohns Hopkins University: Baltimore, MD | Johns Hopkins ScholarshipsUniversity of California: San Francisco, CA | UC San Francisco Scholarships A few from the above list are considered some of the world’s best colleges, too!
    4. Obtain a medical license to practice psychiatry. Apply for a medical license in the state you intend to complete your residency and/or practice. Some states require a medical license to begin residency. Others allow residents to take the state board exam to obtain licensure after one residency year. • An MD takes the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). • A DO takes the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).
    5. Choose a psychiatric specialty and apply for a four-year residency program within the specialty chosen. As a resident, you will get more in-depth training while working in hospitals and clinics. During your residency training, you will put your skills to work by diagnosing and treating psychiatric patients.
    6. Complete a fellowship program if you are training in a psychiatric specialty. It is not required to complete a fellowship to practice psychiatry. However, if you would like to specialize in an area of psychiatry you generally need to hone your training within that subspecialty. VeryWellMind references the seven psychiatric subspecialties below: • Addition • Adolescent and Child • Forensic • Geriatric • Neuropsychiatry • Occupational • Psychosomatic Medicine
    7. Obtain your American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) certification. While you do not have to have ABPN certification to be a psychiatrist, having this level of credential is recommended. This level of certification adds additional prestige to your psychiatry credentials and demonstrates a continued-learning mindset. A Doctor of Psychiatry specializing in a disorder may have additional certifications required at the state level. States often require medical professionals to enroll in continuing education courses to keep their state licensure valid.

      Psychiatrist Salary and Career Outlook

      It takes a lot of hard work and countless hours of education and study to become a psychiatrist. However hard work pays off. A psychiatrist's career outlook is great as U.S. News & World Report ranks it #51 of the 100 Best Jobs in the U.S. Monster places the medical salary of U.S. psychiatrists at $166,458 per year. Most psychiatrists work in physicians’ offices, followed by psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ten percent of American psychiatrists earn a salary of $208,000 per year. 2019 USBLS data reflects a need for psychiatrists in America’s Upper-West and Midwest regions. The five states most of our nation’s psychiatrists work in are:
      1. New York
      2. California
      3. Texas
      4. Florida
      5. Pennsylvania

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