Majors for Aspiring Psychiatrists: Degree Program Options

Psychiatrist training requires many years of education and clinical training, including eight total years in medical school and residency programs. However, this training begins with a bachelor's degree in majors such as biology, chemistry or psychology.

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Essential Information

Bachelor's degree programs in biology and chemistry give students a certain degree of scientific knowledge and laboratory experience that is often helpful for medical school. Degree programs in psychology educate students in analysis and interpretation of human behavior, which is an essential aspect of the psychiatry profession. All programs require four years of study and include general education courses, such as mathematics and English composition, in addition to courses in the major areas. Typical prerequisites include a high school diploma and high standardized test scores.


Bachelor of Science in Biology Degree

Biology degree programs focus on instructing students in the physical, anatomical, biological and molecular makeup of living organisms, such as plants and humans. Students spend a significant amount of time in a laboratory environment conducting independent research. Because psychiatrists analyze and treat patients from a physiological and biological perspective, a background in biology is deemed highly desirable, and many biology programs are specifically designed as preparation for medical school.

A bachelor's degree program in biology combines general education courses with introductory and advanced courses in several aspects of biology. Curricula include traditional lectures and laboratory experimentation. Some lecture topics include:

  • Genetics
  • General botany
  • Immunobiology
  • Biochemistry
  • General chemistry
  • Molecular biology

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry Degree

Chemistry majors focus on analysis and testing of natural and man-made materials in order to understand chemical composition and interaction with other materials. Some programs have concentrations within the major specifically geared for students intending to apply to medical school.

In addition to attending lectures, a significant amount of time is spent conducting or participating in supervised laboratory studies. Course lectures often cover the following topics:

  • Forensic chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Physical chemistry
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Analytical chemistry

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Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

Although it is not a science-based degree program popular among pre-med students, a psychology major covers introductory and advanced theories and principles of analyzing human behavior essential to mental health practitioners. These 4-year degree programs can be earned as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, offering focus on either professional career preparation or organizational and business applications of psychology. Some schools encourage participation in independent or faculty-led research.

Psychology degree programs introduce students to basic and advanced theories and principles of psychology, including different psychological approaches to the profession. Development of critical and analytical evaluation abilities are typically at the heart of these programs. Curricula combine analysis and discussion in a classroom setting, as well as directed academic research. Popular course topics in the major include:

  • Basic psychology
  • Experimental methods
  • Human sexuality
  • Psychology of aging
  • Sensory experience
  • Personality studies

Employment Outlook Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that the majority of psychiatrists worked in private offices, psychiatric institutions and substance abuse hospitals and outpatient care centers, although the highest wages were paid by residential care facilities, scientific research and development services and state governments as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for psychiatrists was $245,673 in 2014, the BLS reported. The BLS predicted job growth of 15%, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2014-2024 for all psychiatrists.

Continuing Education

Psychiatrists need a medical degree and professional licensure to practice. Medical school training covers a broad range of topics necessary for general practice. After earning a medical degree, doctors complete at least four years in residency to acquire psychiatric skills under the supervision of licensed practitioners, learning assessment methods, pharmacology options and treatment approaches in a public institution. Once trained and licensed, psychiatrists could specialize in a particular medical discipline, such as forensic or pediatric psychiatry, through participation in a doctoral fellowship program.

Aspiring psychiatrists can choose from undergraduate majors in the fields of biology, chemistry or psychology. After graduating, students will need to obtain a 4-year medical degree, earn professional licensure to practice and complete at least four years of residency training.

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