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How to Become a Psychiatrist

February 8, 2022
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Part 1: Introduction Part 2: About PsychiatryPart 3: How Hard Is It to Become a Psychiatrist?Part 4: Becoming A PsychiatristPart 5: How Much Does It Cost to Become a Psychiatrist?Part 6: Is Psychiatry Right for You? How to DecidePart 7: FAQs: Becoming a Psychiatrist

Read on below to learn more about becoming a Psychiatrist, how much it costs, and whether it's the right path for you.


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental health conditions, ranging from depression to eating disorders. Some psychiatrists treat a specific type or group of mental health conditions.

Becoming a psychiatrist is as arduous as any other medical career; it is costly, time-consuming, and can be stressful. But, if you are passionate about becoming a psychiatrist, this could be more of an adventure than a challenge. 

Here you will be given a general overview of the plight of becoming a psychiatrist. You’ll learn about the pathway to psychiatry, the schools you must attend, and the experiences that will help you succeed. We’ll also answer common questions and concerns about an education and career in psychiatry.

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About Psychiatry

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavior disorders. Psychiatrists specialize in substance abuse disorders as well. They are qualified to assess both the mental and physical facets of psychological issues.

People seek psychiatric help for a number of reasons: it could be that they are suffering from panic attacks, having hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, or even hearing “voices”. Or the concerns can be more long-term such as depression, feelings of emptiness, anxiousness and hopelessness that never end, which impacts everyday functioning, making life feel distorted or out of control.

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How Hard Is it to Become a Psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist is rewarding, but there are also many challenges along the way. Aside from tuition, going to school for psychiatry can be met with many stressful situations. You must first earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, preferably one that is related to the psychiatry field. Then you must complete four to five years of medical school. 

As a medical school graduate, you must participate in a psychiatry residency for a minimum of four years, spending a good deal of it working with outpatients, inpatients, and various other areas. It takes approximately 12 years of school to become a psychiatrist and become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology if you want to work in the US.

Becoming a Psychiatrist

To become a psychiatrist you’ll need to start with a bachelor’s degree. After that, you must take the MCAT and then complete an MD or DO program before taking a test to become board certified. Read on to learn more about each step. 

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program 

You must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited post-secondary institution. When preparing to go to medical school, it is highly advised to focus on pre-med, physical and biological sciences, or psychology for your major. You can combine them by working towards a double major or major and a minor.

Many US colleges offer a pre-med track and have popular undergraduate majors such as psychology, biology, and chemistry. You can talk with your academic advisor to help find a program with intensive laboratory classes, relevant internship opportunities, and courses in human anatomy, the neurological system, and pharmacology.

Step 2: Take the Medical Colleges Admissions Test

The next step is to sit for the MCAT – the Medical College Admissions Test. Having a passing MCAT score is a basic requirement for consideration, and most schools consider a score of 511 (out of 528) to be an acceptable score.

Step 3: Complete an M.D. or D.O. Program

When accepted into medical school, you have to complete a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). They both have the same basic instruction, but an M.D. offers allopathic treatments that address the specific symptoms of a disease. A D.O. regards the body as an integrated entity and addresses any conditions from lifestyle and medical perspectives instead of targeting specific symptoms. When that is finished, you can begin a residency in a speciality of your choosing. 

Courses taken during medical school vary widely depending upon the program, but students studying psychiatry can expect to take the following, among others:

Step 4: Earn and Maintain a Board Certified License 

Psychiatrists must obtain a license before they are allowed to practice unsupervised. Requirements for maintaining and renewing a license vary by state, but most states require doctors to earn a minimum number of continuing education credits to maintain licensure. Renewal conditions of ABPN certification depend on a psychiatrist’s area of specialty, but the general time frame is 10 years.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Psychiatrist?

A degree in psychiatry opens the doorway to many employment opportunities, a high salary, many areas to explore, and an excellent job outlook. Psychiatry comes with intrinsic rewards and value, seeing as it is about helping people improve their mental health and treating those with life-altering conditions and disorders.

Despite the perks of working as a psychiatrist, psychiatry comes with a range of challenges, one of which may be finances. With the educational costs and training, a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) concluded that 84% of 2014’s graduating medical school class had a combined debt ranging from $170,000 and $200,000 – with a 3% increase from the previous year. Since then the results of AAMC’s survey claimed that 85 public schools and 55 private schools revealed a 3%-4% increase in the overall cost of attendance, including account fees and tuition costs. 

As of 2020, resident students now spend an average of $37,556 to attend a public medical school with non-residents spending significantly more, around $62,000. Whether you're an in-state or out-of-state applicant, you could spend over $60,000 to attend private school.

We will break down the exact costs for each facet of medical school, including tuition, location (living on campus or commuting), and others:

Is Psychiatry Right for You? How to Decide

Being a psychiatrist, while rewarding, requires a lot of mental strength, patience, sympathy, and dexterity.

 

To find out if psychiatry is right for you, check out this chart with information from Rumie:


Here are some more questions, as recommended by the Huffington Post for you to ask yourself before deciding whether to become a psychiatrist:

FAQs: Becoming a Psychiatrist

Still unsure about becoming a psychiatrist? Check out our FAQs below to get a better idea of the process.

1. Where Does a Psychiatrist Work?

Psychiatrists can work in various settings, including but not limited to:

2. What Is the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

Psychologists work with psychiatrists in some circumstances. However, the duties and responsibilities are different. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats patients with mental health disorders, as well as prescribing medications. A psychologist, however, has an advanced degree but is not a medical doctor. They provide psychotherapy to patients and cannot prescribe medications.

 3. What Is a Psychiatrist’s Workday Like?

Their workday varies on where they work and their duties. Typically, psychiatrists spend most of their day meeting patients. They discuss mental health issues that the patients face and offer treatment options. Psychiatrists carry out administrative tasks; they take notes while speaking to patients, prescribe medications, and maintain records. Most psychiatrists spend most of their day learning about developments in psychiatry.

4. How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

It typically takes about 12-13 years of education to become one. That includes post-secondary education, medical school training, and a psychiatry residency. If you wish to do a psychiatry subspecialty, you must complete a program that takes an additional two or three years.

5. What Treatments Does a Psychiatrist Use?

A psychiatrist may use different treatment methods, depending on the circumstances of the patients. They can use medications, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

6. What Are The General Working Conditions for Psychiatrists? 

Psychiatrists need to work in quiet environments to help make their patients comfortable. They work regular 9-5 hours but can work long hours on weekends. The work hours of some types of psychiatrists, like forensic psychiatrists, may be irregular. Those who work in general or psychiatric hospitals tend to have more regular hours. Psychiatrists can also be self-employed and dictate their working hours to suit their patients.

7. Are There a Lot of Job Opportunities in Psychiatry?

It is projected that jobs for psychiatrists will grow by 12% over the next ten years, partly due to the need for psychological services in hospitals, schools, clinics, etc. This rate of growth is average but varies depending on the area of specialization. Job opportunities will become more abundant for psychiatrists who hold degrees and did residency with a subspecialty (ie, a school would want a psychiatrist who did a residency with children’s mental health).

Final Thoughts

Psychiatry is a crucial specialty. Psychiatry can be quite a challenge to those who do not know where to start, or even if psychiatry is the best choice for them. When deciding to become a psychiatrist, you need to do a lot of self-assessment about your endurance and skills, as well as research information about psychiatry and the educational steps to take. Hopefully, the information listed can help you make the best choice for yourself.

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