How to Become a Psychiatrist in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a psychiatrist. Learn about education, training, licensure and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat mental illness, addiction, mood disorders and other mental health issues. As a a psychiatrist, you will treat patients using a variety of methods like counseling, psychoanalysis, and medication. During treatment, you will track the patient's behavior by talking with them regular to assess their mental state and progress. Psychiatrists may sometimes need to alter the amount or type of medication they have prescribed, depending on how it affects the patient. The following chart provides an overview of the career requirements and information for psychiatrists.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Required 4-year residency
Key Responsibilities Interview and examine patients; diagnose mental health issues; prescribe medication and therapeutic treatment; provide outpatient and inpatient therapy
Licensure or Certification All states require psychiatrists to be licensed; board certification in psychiatry is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%*
Average Salary (2015) $193,680*

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

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

As an aspiring psychiatrist, you'll need to take undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, math and physics to meet medical school admissions requirements. Though any bachelor's degree is usually acceptable, majoring in a science discipline or a pre-med field might offer you the best preparation for medical school. It's also recommended that you volunteer at a hospital or a clinic to gain hands-on experience to improve your standing for medical school admission.

Step 2: Pursue a Medical Degree

You'll need to attend four years of medical school to earn your Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. As a medical student, you'll be introduced to basic anatomy, physiology and pathology through lecture and hands-on labs. Your classes will also cover pharmacology, psychology, ethics and medical laws. Typically, you'll learn the fundamental skills, behaviors and practices to become a physician before specializing your studies during your residency.

Step 3: Complete a Residency

After earning your medical degree, you'll participate in a residency in a clinic or hospital. Most psychiatric residency programs last four years and consist of a combination of didactic learning and practical application. You'll usually receive training in a number of disciplines, such as neurology, forensic psychology and chemical dependency before focusing your electives and clinical experience in a particular area during your final year. Under supervision, you may treat a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, psychosis and developmental disabilities.

Step 4: Obtain a License

You must obtain a license through your state's medical board to practice psychiatry in all states. Most states have their own licensure requirements, but you'll usually need to pass an examination that tests your knowledge of state regulations and medical practices. You might also need to register with the state if you disperse medication to your patients.

Step 5: Become Board Certified

Though board certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is voluntary, becoming certified demonstrates your competence and could improve your employment opportunities. The ABPN offers certification in general psychiatry as well as specializations in such areas as addictions, adolescent and forensic psychiatry (www.abpn.com). Board certification is valid for ten years. To renew your credentials, you must maintain a good standing in the profession and an active practice in your specialty as well as participate in continuing education and self-assessment practices.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Psychiatrists have obtained a medical degree and chosen the psychiatric specialty. There are a number of other medical specialties you could choose to specialize in, like anesthesiology, obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN), or surgery. Anesthesiologists are in charge of administering anesthetic drugs to patients who are about to undergo surgery so they are unable to feel sensations. As an OBGYN, you would focus on women's reproductive health, including pregnancies and hormonal imbalances. Surgeons perform a number of different types of procedures and often collaborate with other doctors.

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