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How to Become a Psychiatrist: Career & Education Info

Learn how to become a psychiatrist. Research the education and career requirements, training and licensure information, and experience required for starting a career in psychiatry.

Should I Become a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are licensed medical professionals who diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Along with prescribing medication, they may use a variety of psychiatric techniques, including psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Work may be especially challenging when working with patients who might be uncooperative, disoriented or even violent. Psychiatrists may have long, irregular work schedules, and many professionals work 48 hours a week or more on average, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Career Requirements

Psychiatrists need to have strong verbal and written communication, leadership, organizational, problem solving and interpersonal skills. They also must have empathy, patience, and a good bedside manner, as well as knowledge of human anatomy, especially the brain.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, reported that psychiatrists earned a mean annual wage of $193,680 as of May 2015.

Training for a career in psychiatry begins in undergraduate school, and a bachelor's degree is required for admission to medical school. Undergraduate students pursuing a career in psychiatry may consider majoring in psychology, but a specific major is not required. Regardless of major, students should take courses in the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, ​and biology to ensure they have all of the necessary prerequisites for medical school admissions.

Medical Degrees

Medical school admissions tend to be highly competitive, and possessing a high GPA may not be enough to help a student stand out for admission. Aspiring psychiatrists can volunteer at local mental health centers or in hospitals as a way of demonstrating leadership skills while gaining hands-on experience working with patients.

Aspiring psychiatrists must complete the same medical school training as doctors, surgeons, and other physicians. Medical degree programs typically take four years to complete. These programs are divided into two years of classroom and laboratory instruction and two years of supervised clinical experience. Courses may include pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Students also learn to conduct medical exams and diagnose patients.

After medical school, psychiatrists must gain at least four years of post-doctoral training in residency programs. Residencies provide beginning psychiatrists with paid, clinical practice in hospitals. The APA reports that, after the first year of general medical residency, psychiatry residents must complete 36 months of required psychiatric training, learning about topics including psychopathology, psychopharmacology, cognitive behavioral therapy, substance abuse disorders and transcultural psychiatry.

Psychiatrists may choose to specialize in a specific area of psychiatry, such as geriatric psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine or addiction psychiatry. Candidates may be required to complete an additional year of fellowship training in their subspecialties.

Licenses and Board Certification

The APA notes that psychiatrists must become state-licensed physicians by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Licensing requirements and maintenance procedures are set by the states, and some licensing boards allow reciprocity between states. To prescribe medication, psychiatrists must also acquire a federal narcotics license and register with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Professional psychiatrists may benefit from obtaining voluntary Board Certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Board Certification requires psychiatrists to possess a degree from an accredited medical school and a current state license to practice psychiatry. Additionally, candidates must pass a certification examination. Board Certification must be renewed every ten years.

Continuing Education

Psychiatrists should continue their education throughout their careers to stay current in industry trends and theories; the more knowledgeable a psychiatrist is about his or her field, the better his or her chances are for career advancement. Continuing education is required to renew board certification and may be required to renew licensure as well. Psychiatrists can continue their education through self-assessment activities, workshops, seminars and classes offered by approved institutions.

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