Psychiatry Professions: An Overview

Sep 13, 2019

Psychiatry is generally offered as a residency program following the completion of medical school. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Psychiatrists provide mental health care, which involves diagnosing and treating mental illness. Educational requirements include a bachelor's degree, medical school, and completion of a residency. Good job growth is projected for psychiatry, and salaries are high.

Essential Information

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in studying, diagnosing and treating mental health issues. Psychiatrists who work with patients formulate treatment plans based on an individual's medical, psychological and laboratory tests as well as personal interviews. Other psychiatrists work mainly in research, looking for new treatments for a range of disorders, from schizophrenia to eating disorders.

Like all medical doctors, psychiatrists must earn a bachelor's degree and complete four years of medical school. After that, they spend at least four years in a psychiatry residency working with patients and learning to diagnose and treat illnesses with medicine and various forms of psychotherapy. All physicians and surgeons must be licensed in the U.S., which involves passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Required Education Bachelor's degree, medical school
Other Requirements Residency
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Annual Salary (2018) $208,000 or higher for psychiatrists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

There are a number of specialty areas in the field, including child and adolescent, geriatric, addiction and forensic psychiatry. Psychiatrists work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, colleges and universities, hospices, prisons, clinics and the military.

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

These psychiatrists focus on treating emotional and behavioral issues that affect children and their families. An initial consultation assesses the patient's psychological, social or developmental standing before issuing a treatment of medication, psychotherapy or continued counseling. These physicians may meet with children and adolescents who are in social agencies, juvenile courts or schools. Child and adolescent psychiatrists typically spend two years of training beyond the initial 4-year residency interacting with adolescents, children and their families. They learn about normal child development and an array of disorders, including mental retardation and drug dependence.

Geriatric Psychiatrist

Geriatric psychiatrists work with older adults afflicted with mental disorders, such as dementia or schizophrenia, to help them find appropriate treatment. They often work in tandem with other medical professionals, taking into consideration problems like arthritis, the patient's environment and family issues before finalizing a treatment plan. Prospective geriatric psychiatrists can earn a Doctor of Osteopathy or Doctor of Medicine. After the 4-year general psychiatry residency, an additional year of specialty training working with the elderly is required to become a geriatric psychiatrist.

Addiction Psychiatrist

Addiction psychiatrists work with mentally ill patients with substance abuse issues and are typically part of a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals. They can prescribe medications and might provide inpatient or outpatient psychotherapy. A 1-year clinical fellowship in addiction psychiatry beyond residency trains physicians to treat, research and understand those with substance abuse disorders.


Certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology is optional for psychiatrists and consists of a computerized multiple-choice exam and an oral exam for initial certification. The board offers numerous specialty areas to attain certification, such as geriatric psychiatry, brain injury medicine, sleep medicine, child and adolescent psychiatry and addiction psychiatry. Certification is valid for ten years before the individual must pass the Maintenance of Certification examination.

Job Outlook and Salary information

The American Medical Association indicated that there was a shortage of psychiatrists and of child and adolescent psychiatrists in particular. Addiction psychiatrists also were in demand in the private and public sectors, according to the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP), due in part to an increase in government-mandated treatment. The AAAP also noted that generous funding might be available for psychiatrists interested in pursuing research in this area.

For the years 2018-2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a faster than average job growth of 7% for all physicians and surgeons. The BLS also noted that psychiatrists in general earned an annual median salary of $208,000 or more in 2019.

Psychiatrists treat mental illness by analyzing patients to identify solutions, such as regular counseling, behavioral changes, or family therapy. Psychiatrists must complete a bachelor's degree, medical school, and a residency before practicing. Psychiatry is a rapidly-growing field with a median salary of more than $208,000 a year.

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