Read on to learn more about how to become 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. Some psychiatrists treat a specific type or group of mental health conditions. Becoming a psychiatrist can be time-consuming and stressful. However, passion for the field can help you excel.
We’ll outline the requirements to be a psychiatrist. You’ll learn about the pathway to psychiatry and the experiences that will help you succeed. We’ll also answer common questions about the path to becoming a psychiatrist.
Psychiatry focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists also specialize in substance abuse disorders. They’re qualified to assess the physical and mental facets of psychological issues.
People seek psychiatric help for numerous reasons: it could be that they are suffering from panic attacks, having hallucinations, or having difficulty coping with daily life. Psychiatrists handle patient concerns, such as depression, feelings of emptiness, anxiousness, and more.
A psychiatrist’s daily work can vary. Psychiatrists meet with patients to discuss their mental health issues and offer treatment. They also learn about recent developments in the field. Psychiatrists use various methods to treat patients, such as:
Psychotherapy involves scheduled meetings where the psychiatrist and patient discuss “troubling problems and feelings.” Psychiatrists guide patients through psychotherapy sessions to understand the root of their troubles and help them find solutions.
The main difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is the amount of medical training they have – psychiatrists have more schooling under their belts and can prescribe medication. In contrast, only some psychologists can prescribe specific medications.
To become a psychiatrist, you must start with a bachelor’s degree. After that, you must take the MCAT and complete an MD or DO program before taking a test to become board certified – let’s take an in-depth look at a psychiatrist’s educational requirements.
You must earn a bachelor’s degree to prepare for med school. Many colleges offer a pre-med track to help future psychiatrists get the education they need. You can talk with your academic advisor to help find the right program.
The next step is to sit for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Some medical schools have minimum requirements for MCAT scores. Achieving a high score can help you become a more competitive applicant.
You’ll attend an allopathic (MD) or osteopathic (DO) medical school. They both have the same basic instruction, but an MD offers treatments that address the specific symptoms of a disease.
The DO philosophy regards the body as an integrated entity and addresses the patient’s lifestyle and other factors instead of solely targeting specific symptoms. The courses you’ll take depend on the program, but you can expect to take courses such as:
Many medical schools offer psychiatry-related electives you can pick from to pursue your interest areas.
Your work isn’t done once you graduate from medical school. You must complete at least a four-year psychiatric residency before practicing unsupervised.
Once you’ve completed your program, you can obtain board certification or pursue an optional fellowship in a psychiatry sub specialization. Fellowship lengths depend on the subspecialty (although most take one year). How long it takes to become a psychiatrist depends partly on the specialization you choose.
Psychiatrists must get a license before they’re allowed to practice unsupervised. Requirements for maintaining and renewing a license vary by state.
Becoming board certified by the ABPN shows you’re committed to expanding your knowledge, taking an exam once every decade, and participating in educational activities. Essentially, life-long learning is crucial!
There are four core skills that psychiatrists must possess to perform their roles best:
First and foremost, communication skills are essential – psychiatrists spend much time interacting with patients.
Dr. Ian Collings, a rehabilitation psychiatrist, states: “A thorough history is crucial when trying to diagnose our patients’ problems – and we may often have to try and support them when they have a range of communication difficulties, for example in those with physical brain disorders (such as dementia or brain damage) or intellectual disabilities.”
At the same time, the daily life of a psychiatrist is fraught with uncertainty. Even patients with identical diagnoses may not respond the same way to treatment, so psychiatrists must think on their feet and adapt to any situation.
The last two points go hand-in-hand; you must understand how to identify and treat various mental illnesses while maintaining a strong emotional front for your patients. Physiatrists listen to their patients’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences – you will likely hear difficult, emotionally charged stories daily.
You must first earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, preferably one related to psychiatry. Then you must complete four years of medical school.
As a medical school graduate, you must participate in a psychiatry residency for a minimum of four years, working with outpatients and inpatients and handling other duties. Whether you find becoming a psychiatrist difficult depends on your ability to handle rigorous coursework, clinical experiences, and stress.
It takes approximately 12 years of school to become a psychiatrist and become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) if you want to work in the US.
Becoming a psychiatrist opens many employment opportunities, a high salary, and an excellent job outlook. Psychiatry is rewarding; your job helps people improve their mental health and treats those with life-altering conditions.
Psychiatry can have its challenges, one of which may be finances. A study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) concluded that 73% of students graduate from med school with debt. The median debt of students was $200,000.
That number makes more sense considering the average four-year cost of public medical school is $250,222 and $330,180 for private school. We’ll break down the cost of medical school, including tuition, location, and others:
These factors can influence how expensive the education needed to become a psychiatrist is.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected 8.7% employment growth for psychiatrists between 2021 and 2031, higher than the national average. As such, the job outlook of a psychiatrist is quite good.
Based on this projection, an estimated 2,200+ psychiatrist positions will become available to add to the current 25,520 positions. The mean annual wage of a psychiatrist is $249,760.
Although New Mexico and Wyoming are reportedly the highest-paying states for psychiatrists, the BLS did not release data on annual mean wages for these states. The following best-paying states for psychiatry are as follows:
Now that you know how to become a psychiatrist, it’s time to determine whether the path is right for you. While rewarding, being a psychiatrist requires mental strength, patience, sympathy, and dexterity.
To find out if psychiatry is right for you, check out this chart:
Here are some more questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not you should become a psychiatrist:
If you answered yes to most of these questions, psychiatry might be right for you.
Still unsure about becoming a psychiatrist? Check out our FAQs below to learn more!
Psychiatrists can work in many places, including but not limited to:
You’ll have diverse options when choosing where to work as a psychiatrist.
Psychologists and psychiatrists may work together. However, they have different responsibilities. A psychiatrist diagnoses, treats, and prescribes medications to patients with mental health disorders. A psychologist holds an advanced degree but isn’t a physician. Psychologists typically can’t prescribe medication, but they can provide psychotherapy.
It typically takes about 12-13 years to become a psychiatrist. That includes post-secondary education, medical school, and a psychiatry residency. How many years it takes to become a psychiatrist depends on whether you pursue a fellowship.
No, you must graduate from med school and become an MD or DO to become a psychiatrist.
The job outlook for psychiatrists is good; the projected employment growth rate is 8.7% between 2021 and 2031. The growth rate can vary depending on the specialization.
Psychiatrists must graduate from college, attend medical school, complete a residency, and become board-certified.
While some may find completing the steps to become a psychiatrist stressful, the position itself also comes with an above-average level of stress. Working with patients with mental illnesses and maintaining a strong emotional front can be more challenging for some than others.
Psychiatry is a crucial specialty. Now that you know how to become a psychiatrist, you can decide if this career path is right for you. You’ll need to assess your endurance and skills and research psychiatry to learn more about the profession. The information listed can help you make the best choice for yourself. Good luck!