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Psychiatric Degree Programs with Career Information

Aspiring psychiatrists need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree and complete psychiatric residencies. Prospective advanced practice nurses who want to specialize in psychiatric nursing can pursue a Master of Science degree.

Essential Information

Admission requirements to M.D. programs include completion of a bachelor's program with specific prerequisite coursework, along with qualifying scores on the MCAT. M.D. programs typically take four years to complete and may include clinical rotations in hospital psychiatric facilities. The psychiatric residency requirements necessary for licensure as a psychiatrist are fulfilled after graduation from medical school.

Prospective advanced practice nurses who want to specialize in psychiatric nursing can pursue a Master of Science degree. Admission requirements for these programs include current registered nurse licensure and prior completion of a bachelor's program. Most master's programs in psychiatric nursing include multiple clinical practica and prepare students for certification as psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners, or for certification as psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialists.

  • Program Levels in Psychiatry: M.D., Master's degrees
  • Prerequisites: A bachelor's degree, preferably in pre-med studies, biology, chemistry or physics, and MCAT scores for the doctor of medicine program; a bachelor's degree in nursing and being a registered nurse for the master's program
  • Program Length: 4 years for the doctor of medicine program

Doctor of Medicine

Aspiring psychiatrists must attend a 4-year medical school, complete an internship and serve a residency in a hospital psychiatric ward for at least four years. During medical school, students serve clinical rotations that include psychiatry. As psychiatric residents who are under the supervision of practicing psychiatrists, candidates learn to diagnose and treat schizophrenia, psychosis and other mental illnesses. Psychiatric residents are trained to treat patients through the use of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, medication and hospitalization. Additionally, psychiatric residents may choose a specialty area, including children, adolescent, geriatric, forensic and adult psychiatry.

To become a practicing psychiatrist, candidates must acquire a state license as well as take the board certification exam administered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Medical school students looking to serve a psychiatric residency must first take a variety of basic medical school courses. Required courses typically include the following:

  • Biochemistry
  • Histology
  • Immunology
  • Embrology
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy and neuroanatomy

M.S. in Psychiatric Nursing

Students enrolled in M.S. in Psychiatric Nursing degree programs learn to assess the behavior of patients and provide appropriate care and interventions. Master's degree programs in psychiatric nursing usually offer concentrations in adult or family psychiatry. Psychiatric nurses work as part of teams that include psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. Psychiatric nursing degree programs require extensive hands-on clinical practice in hospitals and clinics.

To become a practicing psychiatric nurse, graduates of psychiatric nursing degree programs must take the test given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner or the exam for Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Classes in M.S. in Psychiatric Nursing programs are designed to train students to be nurses and mental health professionals. Courses include:

  • Group psychotherapy
  • Child psychopathology
  • Pharmacology mental health assessment
  • Personality theory
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Psychotherapy

Employment Outlook and Career Information

Career prospects are good for psychiatrists due to the aging U.S. population and the growing use of health care to treat mental and emotional illnesses. The number of employed physicians and surgeons, including psychiatrists, was expected to grow 18% for the years 2012 through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median annual salary for psychiatrists was $181,880 in 2014.

The employment of all nurses, including psychiatric nurses, will increase by 19% from 2012-2022 because of growing demand for all health care services. Registered nurses will make up additional positions in the health care industry, according to the BLS.

Continuing Education Information

Those who complete a psychiatric residency may apply for fellowships in psychiatry to learn more about a specialty through research and clinical practice. Fellowships are available in several areas of psychiatry, including addictions, adolescents, geriatrics and forensics.

Candidates who complete master's degree programs in psychiatric nursing may apply to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) schools. Graduates of psychiatric nursing master's degree programs may also apply to post-master's programs designed to train students in other nursing specialties, including palliative care, geriatrics and pediatrics.

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