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Psychiatrist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a psychiatrist. Learn about job duties, education and training requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in treating mental illness. They are often considered primary mental health physicians, and their primary task is to diagnose and treat various forms of mental illness. They accomplish this through different combinations of counseling, medication, psychoanalysis or even hospitalization. Psychiatrists talk with patients about their problems and help patients find solutions. The solutions may include things like how to change behavioral patterns, examining past experiences or participating in group and family counseling sessions. Psychiatrists are also qualified to prescribe medication to try and improve chemical imbalances. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a psychiatrist.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Training Required Minimum of a 3-year residency, depending on psychiatric specialty chosen
Key Responsibilities Conduct examinations and diagnose mental, emotional, behavioral or mood disorders; prescribe medication; conduct therapy and oversee treatment
Licensure or Certification All states require psychiatrists to be licensed; board certification in a number of psychiatric specialties is available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Average Salary (2018) $220,380*

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

What Are a Psychiatrist's Job Duties?

Diagnosing and treating patients will be your main responsibility. Your work will focus primarily on mental and emotional ailments. Depression, anxiety, psychosis, developmental disabilities and sexual dysfunction are among the conditions you will encounter. Identifying their underlying physical causes, if any, will be a supporting area of emphasis. You will also keep abreast of research on mental disorders to identify new approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis will entail interviewing patients and their family members, conducting assessment tests and conferring with colleagues, other medical professionals, teachers, lawyers and any other parties acquainted with a patient's history. Sometimes you may have to write diagnostic reports for consideration by law enforcement personnel, judges, doctors and school officials. Treatment includes prescribing medication and leading individual, family and group counseling sessions. If you work in a hospital, you will provide direction and instruction to physicians, nurses and other support staff participating in treatment.

Where Do Professionals Work?

You could work out of your own office, at a psychiatric hospital, a general medical hospital, an outpatient care center or for local and state government agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those were the most common employment settings for the approximately 25,630 psychiatrists working in the U.S. as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected that employment of physicians and surgeons, in general, will increase 7% from 2018-2028.

What Education Do I Need?

You need to obtain a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (M.D. or D.O.) degree and complete at least three years in a psychiatry residency and one year in a residency in psychiatry or a specialty area. To obtain a state license, if you hold an M.D., you need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. If you hold a D.O., you need to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam. At your option, you may then attempt to obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology by passing an oral and written exam on the science and clinical practice of psychiatry. Certification in subspecialties is also available if you complete a 1-year fellowship in a subspecialty area.

Residency programs in psychiatry train you to approach the treatment of mental illness as a hybrid of neurology and psychology. They also synthesize concepts from general medicine, pharmacology, biology and biochemistry. A series of clinical rotations provides you with experience in areas including primary care medicine, community psychiatric care, inpatient care, outpatient care and day treatment. The fourth year provides you with opportunities to concentrate on such specialties as addiction, neurophysiology, forensics or geriatrics.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related careers in the health field that require a doctoral or professional degree. Podiatrists provide care for the foot, ankle and lower leg. They diagnose and treat illness and injury in these areas, and may perform surgery. Chiropractors treat the neuromusculoskeletal system through spinal adjustments and other treatments to minimize back and neck pain. Dentists provide medical care for the mouth. They teach patients how to care for their teeth and gums, and treat any problems.