What Education Is Required to Become a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the treatment of mental disorders. Therefore, all psychiatrists must follow the traditional path to becoming a doctor, including graduation from medical school. To learn more about the educational background required to become a psychiatrist, read on. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Psychiatry Overview

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who primarily care for patients with mental health problems. The education path to entering this career field is a long one, including medical school and at least four years of post-graduate residency training. As a psychiatrist, you may work with patients afflicted with addiction disorders, mood disorders, anxiety or psychotic disorders.

You may be employed by a hospital, outpatient care center or university medical center, or you could go into private practice. While psychiatrists often work directly with patients, you could also focus your career on research, working in clinical testing sites and laboratories. Some psychiatrists enter education careers. Treating patients, you may provide psychotherapy and counseling as well as prescribe medications to correct mental imbalances. You may also need to recommend hospitalization or long-term care in a medical facility for severe disorders.

Important Facts About Psychiatrists

Median Salary (2014) $181,880
Job Outlook (2012-2022) 18% growth
Key Skills Interpersonal communication skills, proficiency in math and science, attention to detail, problem-solving skills
Similar Occupations Chiropractor, optometrist, dentist

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Undergraduate Training

Undergraduate training to become a psychiatrist is geared toward preparation for medical school. Premedical students need a strong academic background in the biological and physical sciences; however, you also need training in the social sciences and humanities. It may be beneficial to participate in extracurricular activities, such as volunteer work or internships.

Medical School Acceptance

Many medical school applicants have a bachelor's degree or higher. Upon earning your undergraduate degree, you need to apply to medical school. Acceptance to an accredited medical school is difficult due to keen competition. Not only do medical schools look at undergraduate grades, they also look at character, personality and leadership traits. In addition, you need to take a standardized test evaluating your qualifications to enter medical school, which is called the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Many schools also require a personal interview and letters of recommendation.

Medical School

Medical school typically lasts for 4 years; the first half generally focuses on core topics in biological sciences, such as anatomy and pathology. The second half is marked by hands-on clinical rotations in all areas of medicine, including psychiatry, pediatrics and surgery. You usually perform clinical rotations at university-affiliated medical facilities, such as hospitals. Upon successful completion, you usually receive a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), although some medical schools award the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.); however, this is not enough to qualify you to practice as a psychiatrist.


Following medical school graduation, you must complete a 4-year residency in psychiatry to fulfill state medical board requirements for licensing. A medical residency is part of a psychiatrist's medical education and involves paid, on-the-job training, which usually takes place in a hospital. You can choose a sub-specialty within the field, such as child and adolescent, geriatric or forensic psychiatry. Any sub-specialty generally requires an additional year or two of fellowship training.

Subjects covered in psychiatry residency programs include neurology, addictions, emergency psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. You may delve into how genetics and life experiences shape a person's identity and contribute to psychiatric disorders. You also learn skills regarding psychiatric consulting, psychiatric testing and inpatient and outpatient psychology treatment methods.

Licensing and Certification

Like all medical physicians, psychiatrists are licensed by state medical boards in order to practice medicine. Besides graduation from an accredited medical school, licensing requirements include passing a national examination, either the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for M.D. graduates or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) for D.O graduates. Board certification is available through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) for physicians who have finished their specialized residency training requirements.

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