How to Become a Psychiatrist: Education, Requirements, and Career Outlook

Last updated: May 20, 2024
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How to Become a Psychiatrist: Education, Requirements, and Career Outlook
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Welcome file Welcome file Meta title: How to Become a Psychiatrist: A Guide

Meta description: Thinking about becoming a psychiatrist? Learn more about the educational path, salary information, and the kinds of challenges to expect in the role.

How to Become a Psychiatrist: Education, Training, and Requirements

The demand for mental health treatment is on the rise, which means many current and prospective medical students considering a psychiatry specialization could experience a bumper crop of available positions.

Psychiatry is a noble but highly demanding profession, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Psychiatrists help people fight mental illnesses and reclaim their cognitive abilities, but they also have to handle the confusion, frustration, and despair that psychiatric patients often bring with them.

If you’re thinking of pursuing this career path, this article is for you. You’ll learn how to become a psychiatrist in the US, what kind of education and training you’ll need, and how much you can potentially earn.

What do psychiatrists do?

Psychiatrists are highly skilled medical professionals who diagnose, treat, and manage mental health disorders. Their primary focus is on understanding the social, biological, and psychological factors that contribute to mental health issues.

When it comes to mental illnesses, the lines sometimes get blurry since it can be difficult to separate health and disorder.

Every patient has a unique history, and their symptoms often can’t be clearly measured or visualized. That’s why psychiatrists often spend hours talking to patients and exploring the gray areas and nuances of specific diagnoses.

(Image Source)

Psychiatrists help people with mental health diagnoses overcome systemic stigma and learn to live a life in which they’re able to take care of themselves, perform fulfilling activities, and maintain their social connections.

This is an empathic profession that involves more emotional labor than many other healthcare specialties.

Common job duties of a psychiatrist include the following:

  • Conducting in-depth consultations with patients

  • Gathering medical histories

  • Examining patients

  • Making diagnoses

  • Prescribing medications

  • Providing psychotherapy

  • Recommending other forms of treatment, such as hospitalization or therapeutic interventions

  • Working alongside other healthcare professionals, such as nurses and therapists

  • Sharing their knowledge with medical students

  • Providing emotional support to both patients and their families

What’s the job outlook for psychiatrists?

Ninety percent of people in the US believe the country is suffering from a mental health crisis. Stressful jobs, a shaky economy, overwhelming news from all over the world, and other modern challenges are testing people’s mental limits daily. So naturally, psychiatry is in high demand.

Currently, there are approximately 26,500 psychiatrists employed in the US. However, many US states and counties are experiencing a chronic shortage of psychiatrists, which means patients often wait for months for an appointment.

(Image Source)

As a psychiatrist, you can work in hospitals, private practices, clinics, medical centers, academic institutions, military, research institutions, correctional facilities, public health organizations, or telemedicine.

It is possible for a psychiatrist to work remotely part-time or even full-time, which is relatively uncommon in the healthcare industry. Telemedicine use for mental health and substance use treatment remains strong, representing at least 36% of outpatient visits.

(Image Source)

As a psychiatrist, you can specialize in various areas of psychiatry based on your interests and additional training. Possible specializations include the following:

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry. Psychiatrists who specialize in this area focus on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in children and teens, addressing issues like developmental disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and mood disorders.

  • Geriatric psychiatry. Geriatric psychiatrists specialize in the mental healthcare of older adults, commonly dealing with age-related mental health concerns such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, late-life depression, and anxiety disorders.

  • Addiction psychiatry. Addiction psychiatrists help patients overcome addiction to substances such as alcohol, opioids, stimulants, or illicit drugs. They may also address co-occurring mental health disorders.

  • Forensic psychiatry. Forensic psychiatrists evaluate individuals involved in legal cases, such as defendants, victims, or witnesses, to determine their mental state, competency, or capacity to stand trial. They can also provide expert testimony in court.

  • Sleep disorders. Sleep psychiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders.

  • Psychosomatic medicine. These psychiatrists specialize in psychosomatic medicine assess and treat psychiatric symptoms that arise in the context of medical conditions, such as somatic symptom disorder, conversion disorder, or chronic pain syndrome.

How much do psychiatrists earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median base salary of psychiatrists is $247,350. This estimate will vary, however, depending on the facility in which you work and the state in which you are employed.

You’re more likely to find a job as a psychiatrist in the following states:

  • California

  • New York

  • Florida

  • Texas

  • Massachusetts

North Dakota and California are two of the highest-paying states for psychiatrists. The average annual wage for highly skilled psychiatrists in these states can reach $390,000, although this is certainly not an industry standard.

If you want to do well as a psychiatrist, consider working in state hospitals, outpatient psychiatry clinics, or private practices.

Is becoming a psychiatrist right for you?

Working as a psychiatrist can take a toll on your psyche. This job requires you to be empathic and sensitive but also extremely resilient.

A good psychiatrist is one who can build strong doctor-patient relationships but also set and maintain strict boundaries.

Before you decide to follow this path, make sure to do the following:

  1. Research the field. Gain a comprehensive understanding of what modern psychiatry entails. Read professional literature, magazines, and forums to discover the most promising research areas and emerging approaches in the field.

  2. Explore your interests. You need to have an innate interest in mental health, human behavior, and the biological and psychological aspects of mental disorders to become a psychiatrist.

  3. Gain exposure. Try to volunteer at mental health organizations, shadow psychiatrists, or talk to professionals who are already working in the field. If you don’t have relevant connections, you can also find virtual shadowing experiences.

  4. Research the educational path. Consider if you are willing to commit to the long educational journey and continuous learning required throughout your career.

  5. Seek advice and guidance. Reach out to mentors or professionals in the field who can provide guidance and support as you explore your career options, especially if you’re already a medical student.

(Image Source)

Another crucial tip is to reflect on your own qualities. To succeed as a psychiatrist, you should have the following soft skills:

  • Strong communication and active listening skills to effectively interact with patients and understand their concerns, even when they’re struggling to put those concerns into words.

  • Observation skills to pick up on unusual speech patterns, uncharacteristic facial expressions, changes in behavior, abnormal walking, tics, and other cues.

  • Empathy and compassion to establish trust with patients, making them feel understood and supported no matter what.

  • Respect for autonomy to show the patient that they’re an active participant in their care and that their preferences and choices matter.

  • Strong ethics and confidentiality to help patients feel comfortable opening up to you.

  • Cultural sensitivity to understand the cultural context that may influence the patient’s experience.

  • Emotional boundaries to ensure objectivity and avoid emotional burnout.

  • A non-judgmental attitude to view patients holistically and overcome the stigma of mental illness.

  • Analytical skills to plan, monitor, and adjust the patient’s treatment.

  • Emotional stability to withstand stress and deal with patients who are at risk of self-harm.

  • A commitment to quality care and diagnostic accuracy to navigate overlapping symptoms and co-occurring conditions.

Steps to becoming a psychiatrist

As mentioned earlier, the road to a career in psychiatry is long. So make sure that if you decide this rewarding field is for you, you’re all in.

Here are the standard steps to becoming a psychiatrist:

  1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Medical schools usually require applicants to have completed either a bachelor’s degree or specific pre-medical courses.

A bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology, biology, chemistry, or neuroscience makes sense, as it’ll help you gain a solid foundation in the sciences and human behavior — giving you a good head start on your psychiatry journey.

  1. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Next, you’ll need to apply to medical school through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) or the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). These services gather, verify, and deliver your information to each school you apply to.

(Image Source)

Admissions criteria typically include solid academic performance, good Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and interviews.

  1. Attend medical school

Medical school is typically a four-year program that leads to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.

During medical school, you’ll take courses in basic sciences, clinical rotations, and patient care experiences — ultimately learning the foundational knowledge and skills you need to practice medicine.

  1. Apply for an unrestricted medical license

To practice as a psychiatrist, you must obtain a medical license in the state where you intend to practice.

(Image Source)

Licensure requirements vary by state but typically involve passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) and meeting other state-specific requirements.

The ideal time to take the USMLE exam is right before applying for a residency program.

  1. Complete a residency (postgraduate training) in psychiatry

A medical residency is specialized training in which you dive deep into the subject of your interest. It typically lasts four years.

During your psychiatry residency, you’ll gain extensive clinical experience through direct work with patients under the supervision of experienced psychiatrists. You’ll work in various psychiatric settings, including inpatient units, outpatient clinics, emergency departments, and consultation-liaison services.

  1. Pursue a fellowship or subspecialization (optional)

As we mentioned earlier, some psychiatrists opt to pursue additional specialized training by completing a fellowship in a subspecialty area of psychiatry.

Focusing on a more niche group will give you a strong competitive advantage and ultimately help you obtain a position in academic psychiatry or a specialized clinic.

  1. Obtain board certification (optional)

After completing your residency, you have the option to pursue board certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) or the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry (AOBNP).

Certification involves passing written and oral examinations that will assess your clinical knowledge, skills, and competence in psychiatry. This step is voluntary, but certification can help you set high standards for yourself and work your way toward leadership positions.

FAQs about psychiatrists

How long does it take to become a psychiatrist?

The path to becoming a psychiatrist typically involves getting a bachelor’s degree, followed by four years of medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. After that, graduates will complete a residency program in psychiatry, which typically lasts four years. The whole journey can take 12 or more years.

How can I become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree?

The transition from psychology to psychiatry is possible but requires a lot of time. First, you’ll need to complete medical school to earn an M.D. or D.O. degree, which typically takes four years. Afterward, you’ll need to complete a psychiatry residency program, which typically lasts four years.

How much does it cost to become a psychiatrist?

Expenses include your undergraduate education, medical school tuition, fees, textbooks, living expenses, and additional costs during your residency. Medical school tuition alone can range from $40,000 to $60,000 or more per year. The total cost of medical education and training may exceed $200,000 — though financial aid options, scholarships, and loan repayment programs may help you offset these costs.

Can you be a psychiatrist with a mental illness?

Yes, it is possible. Mental illnesses don’t automatically disqualify someone from pursuing a career in psychiatry. However, you should ensure that your condition is well-managed and that it doesn’t prevent you from completing your professional duties.

Start your training to become a psychiatrist

If you enjoy exploring how the human brain works and the prospect of having heavy, sometimes emotionally draining conversations with patients doesn’t scare you, a psychiatrist career may be perfect for you.

As a psychiatrist, you can dramatically improve your patients’ quality of life and help them take charge of — and ideally, overcome — their illnesses.

Start pursuing your dream career now. With Jobcase, you can connect with other job seekers and share your experiences. You can also use our professional tips to prepare for your next job interview. Meta title: How to Become a Psychiatrist: A Guide

Meta description: Thinking about becoming a psychiatrist? Learn more about the educational path, salary information, and the kinds of challenges to expect in the role.

How to Become a Psychiatrist: Education, Training, and Requirements

The demand for mental health treatment is on the rise, which means many current and prospective medical students considering a psychiatry specialization could experience a bumper crop of available positions.

Psychiatry is a noble but highly demanding profession, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Psychiatrists help people fight mental illnesses and reclaim their cognitive abilities, but they also have to handle the confusion, frustration, and despair that psychiatric patients often bring with them.

If you’re thinking of pursuing this career path, this article is for you. You’ll learn how to become a psychiatrist in the US, what kind of education and training you’ll need, and how much you can potentially earn.

What do psychiatrists do? Psychiatrists are highly skilled medical professionals who diagnose, treat, and manage mental health disorders. Their primary focus is on understanding the social, biological, and psychological factors that contribute to mental health issues.

When it comes to mental illnesses, the lines sometimes get blurry since it can be difficult to separate health and disorder.

Every patient has a unique history, and their symptoms often can’t be clearly measured or visualized. That’s why psychiatrists often spend hours talking to patients and exploring the gray areas and nuances of specific diagnoses.

(Image Source)

Psychiatrists help people with mental health diagnoses overcome systemic stigma and learn to live a life in which they’re able to take care of themselves, perform fulfilling activities, and maintain their social connections.

This is an empathic profession that involves more emotional labor than many other healthcare specialties.

Common job duties of a psychiatrist include the following:

Conducting in-depth consultations with patients

Gathering medical histories

Examining patients

Making diagnoses

Prescribing medications

Providing psychotherapy

Recommending other forms of treatment, such as hospitalization or therapeutic interventions

Working alongside other healthcare professionals, such as nurses and therapists

Sharing their knowledge with medical students

Providing emotional support to both patients and their families

What’s the job outlook for psychiatrists? Ninety percent of people in the US believe the country is suffering from a mental health crisis. Stressful jobs, a shaky economy, overwhelming news from all over the world, and other modern challenges are testing people’s mental limits daily. So naturally, psychiatry is in high demand.

Currently, there are approximately 26,500 psychiatrists employed in the US. However, many US states and counties are experiencing a chronic shortage of psychiatrists, which means patients often wait for months for an appointment.

(Image Source)

As a psychiatrist, you can work in hospitals, private practices, clinics, medical centers, academic institutions, military, research institutions, correctional facilities, public health organizations, or telemedicine.

It is possible for a psychiatrist to work remotely part-time or even full-time, which is relatively uncommon in the healthcare industry. Telemedicine use for mental health and substance use treatment remains strong, representing at least 36% of outpatient visits.

(Image Source)

As a psychiatrist, you can specialize in various areas of psychiatry based on your interests and additional training. Possible specializations include the following:

Child and adolescent psychiatry. Psychiatrists who specialize in this area focus on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in children and teens, addressing issues like developmental disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and mood disorders.

Geriatric psychiatry. Geriatric psychiatrists specialize in the mental healthcare of older adults, commonly dealing with age-related mental health concerns such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, late-life depression, and anxiety disorders.

Addiction psychiatry. Addiction psychiatrists help patients overcome addiction to substances such as alcohol, opioids, stimulants, or illicit drugs. They may also address co-occurring mental health disorders.

Forensic psychiatry. Forensic psychiatrists evaluate individuals involved in legal cases, such as defendants, victims, or witnesses, to determine their mental state, competency, or capacity to stand trial. They can also provide expert testimony in court.

Sleep disorders. Sleep psychiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders.

Psychosomatic medicine. These psychiatrists specialize in psychosomatic medicine assess and treat psychiatric symptoms that arise in the context of medical conditions, such as somatic symptom disorder, conversion disorder, or chronic pain syndrome.

How much do psychiatrists earn? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median base salary of psychiatrists is $247,350. This estimate will vary, however, depending on the facility in which you work and the state in which you are employed.

You’re more likely to find a job as a psychiatrist in the following states:

California

New York

Florida

Texas

Massachusetts

North Dakota and California are two of the highest-paying states for psychiatrists. The average annual wage for highly skilled psychiatrists in these states can reach $390,000, although this is certainly not an industry standard.

If you want to do well as a psychiatrist, consider working in state hospitals, outpatient psychiatry clinics, or private practices.

Is becoming a psychiatrist right for you? Working as a psychiatrist can take a toll on your psyche. This job requires you to be empathic and sensitive but also extremely resilient.

A good psychiatrist is one who can build strong doctor-patient relationships but also set and maintain strict boundaries.

Before you decide to follow this path, make sure to do the following:

Research the field. Gain a comprehensive understanding of what modern psychiatry entails. Read professional literature, magazines, and forums to discover the most promising research areas and emerging approaches in the field.

Explore your interests. You need to have an innate interest in mental health, human behavior, and the biological and psychological aspects of mental disorders to become a psychiatrist.

Gain exposure. Try to volunteer at mental health organizations, shadow psychiatrists, or talk to professionals who are already working in the field. If you don’t have relevant connections, you can also find virtual shadowing experiences.

Research the educational path. Consider if you are willing to commit to the long educational journey and continuous learning required throughout your career.

Seek advice and guidance. Reach out to mentors or professionals in the field who can provide guidance and support as you explore your career options, especially if you’re already a medical student.

(Image Source)

Another crucial tip is to reflect on your own qualities. To succeed as a psychiatrist, you should have the following soft skills:

Strong communication and active listening skills to effectively interact with patients and understand their concerns, even when they’re struggling to put those concerns into words.

Observation skills to pick up on unusual speech patterns, uncharacteristic facial expressions, changes in behavior, abnormal walking, tics, and other cues.

Empathy and compassion to establish trust with patients, making them feel understood and supported no matter what.

Respect for autonomy to show the patient that they’re an active participant in their care and that their preferences and choices matter.

Strong ethics and confidentiality to help patients feel comfortable opening up to you.

Cultural sensitivity to understand the cultural context that may influence the patient’s experience.

Emotional boundaries to ensure objectivity and avoid emotional burnout.

A non-judgmental attitude to view patients holistically and overcome the stigma of mental illness.

Analytical skills to plan, monitor, and adjust the patient’s treatment.

Emotional stability to withstand stress and deal with patients who are at risk of self-harm.

A commitment to quality care and diagnostic accuracy to navigate overlapping symptoms and co-occurring conditions.

Steps to becoming a psychiatrist As mentioned earlier, the road to a career in psychiatry is long. So make sure that if you decide this rewarding field is for you, you’re all in.

Here are the standard steps to becoming a psychiatrist:

Obtain a bachelor’s degree Medical schools usually require applicants to have completed either a bachelor’s degree or specific pre-medical courses.

A bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology, biology, chemistry, or neuroscience makes sense, as it’ll help you gain a solid foundation in the sciences and human behavior — giving you a good head start on your psychiatry journey.

Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) Next, you’ll need to apply to medical school through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) or the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). These services gather, verify, and deliver your information to each school you apply to.

(Image Source)

Admissions criteria typically include solid academic performance, good Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and interviews.

Attend medical school Medical school is typically a four-year program that leads to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.

During medical school, you’ll take courses in basic sciences, clinical rotations, and patient care experiences — ultimately learning the foundational knowledge and skills you need to practice medicine.

Apply for an unrestricted medical license To practice as a psychiatrist, you must obtain a medical license in the state where you intend to practice.

(Image Source)

Licensure requirements vary by state but typically involve passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) and meeting other state-specific requirements.

The ideal time to take the USMLE exam is right before applying for a residency program.

Complete a residency (postgraduate training) in psychiatry A medical residency is specialized training in which you dive deep into the subject of your interest. It typically lasts four years.

During your psychiatry residency, you’ll gain extensive clinical experience through direct work with patients under the supervision of experienced psychiatrists. You’ll work in various psychiatric settings, including inpatient units, outpatient clinics, emergency departments, and consultation-liaison services.

Pursue a fellowship or subspecialization (optional) As we mentioned earlier, some psychiatrists opt to pursue additional specialized training by completing a fellowship in a subspecialty area of psychiatry.

Focusing on a more niche group will give you a strong competitive advantage and ultimately help you obtain a position in academic psychiatry or a specialized clinic.

Obtain board certification (optional) After completing your residency, you have the option to pursue board certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) or the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry (AOBNP).

Certification involves passing written and oral examinations that will assess your clinical knowledge, skills, and competence in psychiatry. This step is voluntary, but certification can help you set high standards for yourself and work your way toward leadership positions.

FAQs about psychiatrists How long does it take to become a psychiatrist? The path to becoming a psychiatrist typically involves getting a bachelor’s degree, followed by four years of medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. After that, graduates will complete a residency program in psychiatry, which typically lasts four years. The whole journey can take 12 or more years.

How can I become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree? The transition from psychology to psychiatry is possible but requires a lot of time. First, you’ll need to complete medical school to earn an M.D. or D.O. degree, which typically takes four years. Afterward, you’ll need to complete a psychiatry residency program, which typically lasts four years.

How much does it cost to become a psychiatrist? Expenses include your undergraduate education, medical school tuition, fees, textbooks, living expenses, and additional costs during your residency. Medical school tuition alone can range from $40,000 to $60,000 or more per year. The total cost of medical education and training may exceed $200,000 — though financial aid options, scholarships, and loan repayment programs may help you offset these costs.

Can you be a psychiatrist with a mental illness? Yes, it is possible. Mental illnesses don’t automatically disqualify someone from pursuing a career in psychiatry. However, you should ensure that your condition is well-managed and that it doesn’t prevent you from completing your professional duties.

Start your training to become a psychiatrist If you enjoy exploring how the human brain works and the prospect of having heavy, sometimes emotionally draining conversations with patients doesn’t scare you, a psychiatrist career may be perfect for you.

As a psychiatrist, you can dramatically improve your patients’ quality of life and help them take charge of — and ideally, overcome — their illnesses.

Start pursuing your dream career now. With Jobcase, you can connect with other job seekers and share your experiences. You can also use our professional tips to prepare for your next job interview.

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