Can I Become a Psychiatrist with a Psychology Degree?

Although a bachelor's degree in psychology is a good choice for an aspiring psychiatrist, it doesn't prepare you to practice this medical specialty. In order to become a psychiatrist, you need to complete a medical degree program, as well as finish a 4- or 5-year residency in psychiatry. Read on to learn how to become a psychiatrist after completion of your undergraduate psychology program. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

The Job of a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists diagnose and treat the mentally ill in private or group settings. Unlike psychologists or counselors, psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) and are licensed to prescribe medications. They may also employ psychotherapy, hospitalization and psychoanalysis within their treatment plans. Psychiatrists usually spend most of their time working with patients, but many teach and perform research as well.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2014) $181,880
Required Education Medical school; psychiatry residency
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 15% growth
Licensure Medical license required
Work Environment Private office or clinic

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Undergraduate Education

While many medical schools require only three years of undergraduate education, most admitted students have completed at least a 4-year bachelor's degree program. You can choose any major, including psychology, but you must have completed prerequisite coursework in chemistry, biology, physics and organic chemistry. Coursework in epidemiology, anthropology, statistics and ethics are also looked favorably upon by medical school admissions departments.

Medical School

Your first two years of medical school will consist mostly of coursework focusing on the sciences and the systems of the human body. You'll take classes in anatomy, embryology, biochemistry, psychology and clinical medicine, among other areas. In your last two years of medical school, you'll receive more hands-on training with physicians in clinical settings. During your fourth year, you'll participate in elective rotations and explore areas such as pediatric neurology or gerontology. Many medical students interested in becoming psychiatrists also find a psychiatric mentor during their medical studies.

Psychiatry Residency

Psychiatry residency programs take four years to complete and require at least 36 months in psychiatry settings. Your first year is often known as an internship and will include significant medical training outside of your psychiatric specialty. You'll complete hospital rotations in general medicine, emergency medicine and neurology. During your remaining years, you'll focus exclusively on psychiatry and gain experience working with different types of patients, such as eating disorder, geriatric and schizophrenic patients. You'll have the opportunity to participate in research electives during your final year, allowing you to explore particular areas of interest.


Though not necessary, you may choose to further specialize in the field of psychiatry after completing your residency by entering a fellowship. Fellowship programs generally take one year to complete and allow you to focus on a more narrow aspect of psychiatry, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatrics, addiction, forensic psychiatry or research. A child and adolescent psychiatric subspecialty takes two years of training, but you may be able to begin your training after your third year of residency.

Licensure and Certification Info

You'll need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to practice medicine in the U.S. ( This is a 3-step exam, and you'll typically complete the first two steps while still in medical school. The third and final step is usually taken during your first or second year of residency.

You can choose to become board certified in psychiatry after completing your residency. You can also earn sub-specialty certification if you choose to complete a fellowship. Board certification requires a commitment to lifelong learning and you'll be required to demonstrate cognitive and practical expertise in your specialty throughout your career.

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