The Best Medical Schools for Psychiatry

October 23, 2023

Psychiatry is a highly conceptual, in-demand, and diversified medical practice that is utilized by almost all governmental and private medical institutions. Finding the best medical school for you is an essential step in focusing your practice in psychiatry. Our list of the best medical schools for psychiatry will help you find the perfect academic institution for your desired practice. 


Psychiatry is unique among the branches of medicine. It is one of the most conceptual and diverse specializations a medical doctor can undertake. 

Since you aspire to become a psychiatrist, you must seek out the best medical school for psychiatry for two notable reasons. First, you need a school that provides an early focus on the wide spectrum of mental disorders, and second, you need a school that will help you plan the exact nature of your eventual practice.

Psychiatry, like its related practice of neurology, is incredibly diagnostic. For this reason, you need a school that emphasizes studying mental disorders and how to diagnose them. A psychiatrist can practice in settings such as:

  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Community agencies
  • Courts and prisons
  • Nursing homes
  • Government
  • Military
  • Schools and universities
  • Rehab programs
  • A self-employed physician

Choosing a medical school that provides early career guidance is invaluable.

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Things to Know as a Future Psychiatrist

Just like any other medical profession, becoming a psychiatrist is a long process. It is a 12-year trek from first entering an undergraduate program to becoming board certified. However, there are many benefits to such an extensive education.

Once you can practice as a psychiatrist, you may enjoy a healthy work-life balance, easy entrance into an in-demand yet under-supplied field, and a mean annual wage of $163,660. Also, the bulk of your work would be spent communicating with patients, diagnosing their mental health, and alleviating the suffering caused by mental disorders.

You may even fine-tune your experience working as a psychiatrist by pursuing a subspecialty. Becoming certified in addiction psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, or any of several more subspecialties helps achieve your specific long-term professional goals.

When trying to find the best medical school for psychiatry, you must keep the highly communicative nature of psychiatric practice in mind. Many psychiatrists spend 60% of their work time with patients, so the best medical school for psychiatry will include hands-on learning in a clinical setting.

The best medical school for psychiatry will also reveal the diverse job opportunities within the field to its students. These schools are sure to offer several psychiatry electives, familiarizing students with types of mental disorders, practice in particular settings, and available subspecialties.

Top US Medical School Rankings for Psychiatry

Each of the following medical schools will provide you with an exceptional psychiatric education. However, this list will offer specific details about each institution and their programs  so you can find the best medical school for you.

Yale University Medical School

The Yale School of Medicine is located next to the institution’s main campus in New Haven, Connecticut. If you’re thinking of attending, make sure you come to school with the required initiative.

Students are not given grades or class rankings for the first two years of their med school education. Moreover, attendance isn’t taken in preclinical classes, and tests are optional. To gain a foundational understanding of preclinical concepts, you have to use your own, self-provided motivation.

These self-motivated studies will culminate in an original research thesis required for graduation. While the Yale School of Medicine provides many resources for students to succeed — including more than 50 med student organizations and a personal librarian — the institution will not remind you to keep organized and work hard.

The MD program at Yale contains a  pre-clerkship curriculum, focusing on the science behind clinical concepts. These courses are light on lecture material, favoring more interactive learning practices such as small-group workshops and conferences. 

In your later years at Yale School of Medicine, you will participate in a clerkship designed for both ambulatory care internal medicine and psychiatry. This 6 to 12-week clerkship consists of classroom and clinical activities geared toward developing your general ability as a medical doctor and your working psychiatric knowledge.

The Yale School of medicine is one of the best medical schools for psychiatry because of its unique program structure, which combines preclinical knowledge, clinical practice, and specialized psychiatric knowledge.

Harvard University Medical School

Harvard Medical School is another North-Eastern institution with particular appeal to aspiring psychiatrists. The program structure at Harvard Medical School is similar to its Yale counterpart.

You won’t exactly be graded on any of your work during the core science courses in your first year or clinical skills building in your second year. However, unlike Yale, these pre-clerkship years will be assessed as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. 

The Harvard clerkship focuses on group and individual practice supervised by attending faculty. The ultimate aim of the clerkship is to acclimate students with clinical psychiatric practice while also providing opportunities to gain expertise experience. This clerkship structure is particularly useful if you’re hoping to practice as a psychiatrist with a subspecialty one day.

The Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry also offers interested medical students the opportunity to participate in the Donald J. Cohen Klingenstein Fellowship in Child Psychiatry. The fellowship is a distinctly informal learning opportunity centered on the field of child and adolescent psychiatry. It also allows students to participate in clinical experiences and contact residents and faculty dedicated to the child and adolescent subspecialization of psychiatry. 

Johns Hopkins University

The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is a Baltimore-based school that prides itself on its Genes to Society Curriculum. This MD program differs from Yale and Harvard as its educational and patient care components run concurrently.

As the name Genes to Society suggests, the ethos at Johns Hopkins relies on a medical understanding ranging from the human genome to the environmental and societal influencers of disease. Alongside regular academics, the MD program at Johns Hopkins includes occasional course breaks that shift focus toward clinical simulation and advanced skills.

If jumping straight into a well-rounded medical education sounds daunting, don’t worry. Students at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are provided with advisers that aid with both academics and future career selection.

If the Yale and Harvard model of preclinical to clinical education doesn’t appeal to you, the Genes to Society model may be your perfect fit.

Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

The Perelman School of Medicine is the oldest medical school in the country and one of the most developed schools for aspiring psychiatrists. The MD program is divided into six different modules, complete with experiential opportunities by way of simulations.

However, the additional education available to future psychiatrists makes Perelman stand out. The school offers advanced training programs, research fellowships, clinical fellowships, psychology internships, and more. At Perelman, your psychiatric knowledge will be nurtured within and beyond the classroom.

These additional learning opportunities are especially useful if you intend to practice psychiatry with a subspecialization. Perelman is sure to have the resources to specify your knowledge. 

University of California — San Francisco

The medical school at the University of California — San Francisco educates future physicians through a three-phase MD program named the “Bridges Curriculum.” Over four years, students at UCSF will work through the following three educational steps:

  • Foundations 1: “Foundational knowledge in basic and clinical sciences.”
  • Foundations 2: Experiential education in  “team-based clinical settings” where students develop patient care skills.
  • Career Launch: Students’ choice of individualized clinical experience that best aligns with their professional ambitions.

This Career Launch phase of UCSF’s MD program is an intriguing option for aspiring physicians for a few reasons. Of course, the student-selected experiential learning means you can gain early experience in psychiatric clinical practice. This learning stage is also perfect if you have ambitions of an eventual subspecialization within the psychiatric field. The earlier you can gain more focused clinical experience, the better.

Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

If you’re seeking a formidable yet more traditional education than many of the other MD programs in this list, Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons may be the school for you.

The high point of VP&S’s curriculum is its third-year winter semester. During this time, you will be able to “explore your interests in medicine through electives and the scholarly project.” This mirrors the gradually specialized focus offered by other MD programs, yet VP&S retains a more class-room oriented curriculum. If this type of education makes you feel more comfortable, it may be a better fit than other schools with more unorthodox curriculum structures.

University of Pittsburgh Medical School

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is another institution that seeks to balance preclinical studies and clinical experience in the early years of the MD program. However, UPSOM’s later MD program years are notably different from those preceding them.

Actual clerkship experience begins in the third year of UPSOM’s MD program. There are ten required clerkships where students can combine their foundational concepts with proper physician’s practice. Students will spend three one-week periods in clinical focus courses throughout the year.

The fourth-year becomes more researched based; it is largely dedicated to a scholarly research project required for graduation. Though this stage of UPSOM’s curriculum is more scholarly than clinical, students retain the ability to choose their area of concentration.

David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California — Los Angeles

The David Geffen School of Medicine has recently undergone a detailed redesign of its MD program curriculum. The following is an ordered list of the learning stages at Geffen:

Year 1

  • Preparation for the pre-clerkship curricular.
  • Early clinical experience to expose students to practice.

Years 1 & 2

  • Study of the scientific foundations of medicine, including the study of Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, etc.
  • Study of the foundational elements of clinical practice, including interpersonal communication skills, clinical examination skills, clinical reasoning, etc.

Years 2 & 3

  • A week-long intersession introducing students to aspects of clerkship.
  • Seven clinical rotations exposing students to specialties, including neurology and psychiatry.

Year 3

  • Students work with a faculty mentor to explore possible specialized career paths.
  • Clinical experience building on the student’s clerkship experience.

Year 4

  • Clinical electives in a wide range of subspecialties.
  • Final capstone assessments of medical students’ clinical knowledge and practice.

The intensely detailed and progressive nature of Geffen’s MD program is an optimal choice if you want an education that will begin with the fundamentals and smoothly transition you into specialized psychiatric knowledge.

Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford University’s School of Medicine is relatively indistinct from the curriculum structure of most other MD programs. The program is divided into a pre-clerkship learning period, a compulsory 66 weeks of clinical training, and final assessments of students’ knowledge and skills.

However, Stanford remains a good home for aspiring psychiatrists because of the six  divisions of the psychiatry department. Each division offers fundamental knowledge of different psychiatry subspecialties. These divisions include the following subspecialized focuses:

  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • General Psychiatry and Psychology
  • Brain Sciences
  • Medical Psychiatry
  • Pubic Mental Health and Population Sciences 
  • Sleep Medicine

If you’re considering a career in any of the relevant psychiatric subspecialties, Stanford has the resources to best educate you.

Duke University School of Medicine

Duke University is unique in that it is the only South-Eastern college on this list of the best medical schools for psychiatry. It is also unique by virtue of its curriculum structure.

Most of the MD program curriculum at Duke is as standard as any other program, beginning with preclinical learning, moving into more specialized learning, then moving students into clinical practice. However, this entire process is condensed into three years instead of four.

There is a fourth-year in Duke’s MD program, but it is primarily devoted to specialized scholarly research. The school states that this curriculum structure “provides students ample opportunity to pursue their independent studies.”

How to Find More Great Medical Schools for Psychiatry

With so many med school options, it can be hard to narrow down which schools to apply to. But don’t worry--our med school selection tool down below will make the choice easy! 

Our quiz takes many factors into account to give you the most accurate results possible. Simply specify that you’re interested in the specialty of psychiatry and find tons of medical schools that suit all your needs!

How to Get Into the Best Medical Schools for Psychiatry

One of the most important things you can do to get accepted to the best medical schools for Psychiatry is to increase your GPA and MCAT score. This will take careful, independent study and an investment in personalized tutoring if you are especially dedicated.

Aside from the obvious factor of test scores, you can also research the admissions requirements of any schools you are interested in. In knowing the required pre-med requirements needed for your chosen MD program, you can satisfy those criteria without worry.

Ivy League medical schools and other institutions will also be interested in your relevant experience. It is very beneficial to participate in some lab research available to you during your pre-med years. This will show admissions officers that you are more than a good GPA and MCAT score, and you will be able to excel at the clinical aspects of the MD program.

The Best Medical Schools for Psychiatry FAQs

Do you still habe questions about the top med schools for Psychiatry? We've outlined several commonly asked questions below and provided the answers to all of them.

1. What GPA and MCAT score do I need to attend a top med school?

Getting into one of the best medical schools for psychiatry is far from easy. The average GPAs and MCAT scores needed for acceptance into the schools mentioned above are notably high. Any of these schools would require close to a 3.8 GPA and an MCAT score ranging between 515-525.

An acceptance from any of the schools listed above is almost equally difficult to manage. This is why it is so important to study hard and invest in tutoring resources that will make your difficult GPA and MCAT goals much more possible. 

2. What type of experience will help me get accepted into med school?

Since you are an aspiring psychiatrist, some pre-med experience shadowing a psychiatrist or neurologist would be an invaluable way to display your serious dedication to medical schools. 

Doctor-patient confidentiality makes it difficult to find a shadowing opportunity with a psychiatrist, though there is a way around this particular challenge. It’s best to try to contact psychiatrists who work in group settings such as substance abuse programs.

Since neurology is closely related to psychiatry, experience shadowing a neurologist will also demonstrate your commitment to becoming a psychiatrist to admissions officers. 

3. What else should I consider when choosing a med school?

Though most of the schools listed above are scattered throughout the North-East, it is still important to consider the geographic location of each institution. Depending on where you live, you must decide if you are comfortable relocating and living in the city of your chosen institution.

Aside from location, you should also seek to attend the med school with a curriculum structure that matches well with your personality. If you are more inclined to clinical experience in which you are communicating with patients, then Yale or Harvard’s experiential focus may be right for you. If you are more suited to a traditional classroom environment, then you might prefer Vagelos’ emphasis on scholarly research.

4. What are the traits of a good psychiatrist?

Of course, a good psychiatrist is dedicated to treating patients who suffer from mental disorders. However, psychiatric medicine is unique among the branches of medicine because of how integral interpersonal communication skills are to the practice.

Since a psychiatrist’s job is so deeply based on communication, the optimal psychiatrist is a careful and patient listener. A psychiatrist must be perceptive and knowledgeable enough to diagnose intangible mental disorders. A psychiatrist must also sympathetically do all they can to treat the patient and often elucidate difficult psychological concepts to their patients.

5. Are strong communication skills the only important thing for psychiatry?

Though strong communication skills are central to the psychiatric practice, the optimal psychiatrist is also an impressive medical doctor. A psychiatrist needs to supplement their interpersonal and diagnostic skills with an understanding of neurological, psychological, and neurochemical concepts. A psychiatrist is a talkative sort of doctor, but they are a doctor all the same.

Final Thoughts

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that stands out from all others, so it only makes sense that your medical school education is likewise unique. With our list of the best medical schools for psychiatry, you will find the MD program that is optimal for your specific professional ambitions. 

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