How to Become A Psychiatrist

About Psychiatry

Psychiatry is the study of mental illnesses and emotional problems; their diagnosis, prevention and cures. It not only focuses on the mental and emotional aspects of the disease but also the physical illnesses that are linked to mental disorders. Psychiatry provides a variety of psychotherapeutic, medical and psychosocial treatments to cater to the needs of patients. The field of psychiatry is a constantly growing one, with more and more findings emerging about the brain and its complex workings. Research centers throughout the world are working on projects aimed at finding better cures for mental diseases and disorders.

What Do Psychiatrists Do?

Psychiatrists are healthcare professionals who specialize in the cure of psychological disorders. They hold a medical degree and are authorized to prescribe medication for the treatment of mental disorders. As psychiatrists work in different capacities depending on the workplace setting and fields of expertise, their duties greatly vary, nevertheless, several duties are common to all. These include:

  • Analysis and evaluation of patient data to diagnose the nature and severity of a psychological disorder.
  • Prescription and administration of psychotherapeutic medications or treatments for mental, behavioral and emotional disorders.
  • Working in a team with psychologists, physicians, nurses and other related professional to formulate and execute treatment plans.
  • Obtaining and maintaining patient information and medical history.
  • Counseling outpatients during clinic visits.
  • Being up to date with new information in the field of psychiatry.
  • Effectively instructing team members to carry out required tasks properly.

Types of Psychiatrists

Aspiring psychiatrists can choose from a number of fields to specialize in. These include:

  • Adult Psychiatry - this caters to adults who are suffering from psychological disorders and mental illnesses.
  • Adolescent and Child Psychiatry - deals with mental problems in teens and children.
  • Forensic Psychiatry - this is related to criminology and the justice system
  • Addiction Psychiatry-deals with victims of drug abuse and people suffering from  addiction
  • Neuropsychiatry - deals with mental disorders related to the nervous system, brain diseases and brain injuries.
  • Geriatric Psychiatry - deals with old-age mental disorders.
  • Organizational Psychiatry - deals with psychological problems arising in work place and organizational settings.

Psychiatry Education and Certification

How to become a psychiatrist? Becoming a psychiatrist requires extensive education and practical experience. The following three stages have to be completed before one can become a practicing psychiatrist:

  1. College

Doing well in high school is necessary to get accepted at an approved college where one has to complete all the pre-med courses in the form of a Bachelor of Science program. These courses primarily focus on biology, physics, chemistry and organic chemistry. College takes around 4 years to complete and by the end of third year, the MCAT which is the standardized admission test for medical schools. Performance in both college and the MCAT determine one’s eligibility for acceptance into medical school.

  1. Medical School

Medical school also takes about 4 years to complete and can be broadly categorized into two components. The first stage takes two years and comprises of basic science knowledge with focus on subjects like pathology, anatomy, biochemistry, histology, pharmacology and immunology; the second stage focuses on clinical rotations where candidates work with doctors and resident doctors in different areas of medicine including surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, neurology and pediatrics. By the end of the last year students start applying for residency programs in their field of interest which would be psychiatry if one is aspiring to become a psychiatrist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some colleges provide accelerated six or seven-year programs, combining both bachelor’s and medical degree.

  1. Residency

Residency in psychiatry takes another four years. It basically involves practical experience in various medical settings with initial focus on general medicine and neurology rotations. The rest of the residency focuses on different areas of psychiatry and other electives. Typically, it takes one year to complete in-patient psychiatry, one year in out-patient psychiatry and the rest of the time on subspecialties of psychiatry.  

Before commencing practice, a psychiatrist has to go through two more stages. Upon completion of the required education, the state board exam is to be passed to become a licensed practitioner. Each state may have slightly different requirements for the licensure. Next, one has to obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology; this is optional, but highly recommended.

Skills Required for Becoming a Psychiatrist

The profession of a psychiatrist requires certain skills that are necessary. These skills include:

  • Active Communication- ability to listen to and understand others, express oneself clearly both verbally and in writing, and read and interpret written information.
  • Critical Thinking- ability to use logic and rationale to evaluate alternative courses of action, solutions, approaches to problems and conclusions.
  • Monitoring- actively observing performance of oneself and other colleagues, assessing it against standards and taking appropriate corrective action.
  • Active Learning- ability to understand and apply new information to current and future situations.
  • Decision Making- evaluating all possible alternatives, comparing relative costs and benefits of all available choices and exercising sound judgment.
  • Time Management- effectively managing time to achieve maximum productivity.
  • Problem Solving- identifying problems, obtaining relevant information, design possible solutions and corrective measures.
  • Effective Learning Strategies- finding and using effective training and instructional procedures when acquiring new knowledge or information.
  • Coordination- ability to be in sync with working conditions and other members of the team.
  • Systems Analysis and Evaluation- assessing the regular workings of a system and the effects of possible changes in conditions, environment and operations on the outcomes of the system; measuring system performance using indicators and benchmarking, with the aim to synchronize it with the goals of the system.
  • Negotiation- ability to bring people together, reconcile differences and reach common ground acceptable to all parties.
  • Social Perceptiveness- being wary of others’ notions, views, understanding and reactions.
  • Flexibility- ability to adapt to changing situations and demands of the profession.
  • Instructing- teaching and training team members.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for psychiatrists was $187,200 in 2012. However, depending upon the location, qualification and work setting, the salary may vary. BLS projects an 18% increase in demand for psychiatrists by 2022, which is higher than the 11% average growth rate of all professions. This is due to the growing population which will accelerate the growth in demand for healthcare services.


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