How Can I Become a Pediatric Psychiatrist?

Explore the career requirements for pediatric psychiatrists. Get the facts about job duties, education and licensure requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Pediatric Psychiatrist?

A pediatric psychiatrist is a trained physician who specializes in treating mental illness in children, youth and teenagers. They provide treatments such as counseling and psychoanalysis. In some cases, psychiatrists may also prescribe medications, or they may hospitalize patients who need extra care. Pediatric psychiatrists can work in private practice, or they can find jobs within children's hospitals and other large medical centers.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a pediatric psychiatrist.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 4- to 5-year residency
Key Responsibilities Examine and interview pediatric patients and diagnose mental health conditions; prescribe medication; provide psychotherapy for mental health disorders, mood disorders, behavioral issues or substance abuse
Licensure or Certification All states require psychiatrists to be licensed; board certification in child and adolescent psychiatry is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% for all psychiatrists*
Median Salary (2017) $200,097**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

What Does a Pediatric Psychiatrist Do?

As a pediatric psychiatrist, you talk extensively with patients in private or group therapy sessions, diagnose any behavioral or mood disorders, plan a course of treatment, prescribe medication when necessary and monitor patient progress. You help children, young adults and teens work through emotional issues with school, family life and friends to help them become more well-adjusted, productive individuals.

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

The first step to becoming a pediatric psychiatrist is to obtain a bachelor's degree from an accredited school, which typically takes four years. Although there is no specific major requirement, you might consider a related major, such as psychology, chemistry or biology. Bachelor's degree programs combine general educational requirements in the arts, humanities and sciences with introductory and advanced courses designed for the specific major. Typically, during your final year, you will take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and apply to medical school.

Since psychiatrists are medically trained mental health professionals, you will need to attend medical school, which generally takes four years to complete. Medical school blends essential and comprehensive coursework with practical, hands-on experience with practicing physicians and patients in a clinical setting. During medical school, you will do rotations in a number of areas of medicine, such as obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, general surgery, family practice, pediatrics and psychiatry.

What Happens after Medical School?

After medical school, you will need to enter a residency program in general psychiatry, which usually takes about four years to complete. A residency program in general psychiatry combines coursework, research opportunities and continued hands-on practice working with patients. The clinical experiences give you training in a number of areas, such as neurology, adolescent psychiatry, emergency room treatment, geriatric psychiatry and substance abuse. During rotations, some areas of focus include forensic psychiatry, pharmacology, inpatient interviewing, couples therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, group therapy and child psychology.

Some general psychiatry residency programs allow you to focus on child and adolescent psychiatry in the final two years. During this time, you will learn how to apply psychiatric medicine to children, young adults and teens. Much of the focus is engaging in rotations and gaining comprehensive understanding in essential areas, such as family dynamics, child development, pediatric psychopharmacology, adolescent behavior and psychodynamic psychoanalytic theory as it applies to children.

How Do I Get Licensed and Certified?

You will be licensed as a medical doctor (M.D.) upon successful completion of educational requirements and passing of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). All 50 states require medical doctors, including psychiatrists, to be licensed. The USMLE is a series of written and practical examinations designed to ensure you have achieved a minimum level of health care knowledge and patient-centered skills.

While being a licensed doctor is required, board certification is voluntary and considered a desirable professional distinction. You can apply for board certification in child and adolescent psychiatry through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Board certification involves passing a written examination.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a psychiatrist, you could choose to specialize in a different area of the field, such as addiction psychiatry, which would require you to complete a one-year fellowship. Alternatively, if you know you want to work with young people, you could become a general pediatrician by completing a residency in the field after you finish your medical degree. There's also the possibility of specializing in a completely different area of medicine, such as anesthesiology or surgery, depending on your interests.

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