Psychiatrist Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for psychiatrists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensing requirements and job growth 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 Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who specialize in treating patients with mental illnesses and other mental health concerns. Their services can include counseling and psychoanalysis. They may also recommend patients for hospitalization. For some patients, they prescribe medications that can treat chemical imbalances in the brain that are responsible for psychological disorders. While many psychiatrists work in private practice, they can also find jobs in hospitals and other larger medical institutions.

The following chart provides an overview about the career of psychiatrist.

Degree Required Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)
Licensing or Certification All states require doctors to be licensed, board certification in psychiatry may be required
Key Responsibilities Diagnose and treat mental illness; treat patients with psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, prescription medication or hospitalization
Median Salary (2017) $211,459*
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%**

Sources: *Salary.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

Using your medical school training, you would assess and diagnose patients who come to you with mental-health needs. You may use psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, medication and hospitalization in order to treat mental illnesses, such as mood, anxiety, substance-abuse, adjustment and gender-identity disorders. Unlike psychologists, you can prescribe medication. You may work with patients on a short-term or long-term basis, in individual or group sessions, or in hospitals or outpatient settings.

What Education Training Do I Need?

After you complete a 4-year undergraduate program and earn a bachelor's degree, you need to attend medical school to earn your Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree, which takes another four years. The first two years of medical school typically include foundational courses in anatomy, physiology and clinical-care principles, and some programs have you working with patients under supervision, performing basic tasks like asking patient histories and performing physicals. You may study cases and participate in lab work as well.

Your program will typically include two years of rotations under the supervision of a licensed physician. Rotations take place in a number of areas, such as internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics and psychiatry. Other clerkships you may participate in include children and adolescent or adult psychiatry. Rotations may take place in public or private hospitals as well as specialized care settings for children or cancer patients, for example.

What Happens After Medical School?

Once you've earned your medical degree and passed the medical licensing exam, you gain additional training through a 4- or 5-year residency in psychiatry. Some programs offer clinical and research tracks. During your residency, you have the opportunity to do rotations and gain experience in a number of critical areas of psychiatry, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and ambulatory-care psychiatry. You may conduct in-patient and out-patient care with individuals or special populations.

Your residency may include work in various settings, like primary care offices and community or state hospitals. In addition to hands-on care, you may participate in roundtables and seminar learning experiences with your peers. You may also gain experience in working in a collaborative manner with other professionals, such as social workers and psychologists.

What Kind of License and Certification Do I Need?

Doctors, including psychiatrists, are required to be licensed by the state in which they practice. Medical school graduates who hold an M.D. must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to obtain licensing, and those who hold a D.O. must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). After fulfilling certain educational and professional requirements, you can apply for board certification through the appropriate specialty board of American Board of Medical Specialists if you have an M.D. or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) if you have a D.O.

How Much Can I Expect To Earn?

In January 2017, Salary.com reported that the middle 50% of psychiatrists earned between $189,488 and $236,537 annually, with an estimated median annual salary of $211,459. The BLS noted that the Medical Group Management Association reported that psychiatrists earned a median salary of $245,673 in 2014 (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

After completing your medical degree, you could pursue a residency in a field other than psychiatry in order to become a different type of doctor, such as a surgeon, family physician or neurologist. If you are particularly interested in counseling, you could also think about becoming a mental health counselor or a marriage/family therapist. It is important to note that, for either of these jobs, you don't need a medical degree, but you do need to complete a master's degree program in the field and pass a licensure exam.

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