Psychopharmacologist: Job Description and Education Requirements

Psychopharmacologists require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, licensure requirements and certification options to see if this is the right career for you.

Psychopharmacologists typically have the credentials of psychiatrists, meaning they have completed medical school, followed by a residency. They then advance to the study of medications that are used to treat mental illnesses or disorders. Working psychopharmacologists prescribe psychotropic medications, or could also work as a researcher.

Essential Information

Psychopharmacologists are usually psychiatrists with expertise in the types of medications used to treat mental conditions. While psychopharmacology is a subspecialty of psychiatry, it is not formally recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Aspiring psychopharmacologists must complete all the education requirements to become a psychiatrist in addition to advanced education in psychopharmacology.

Required Education Bachelor's degree and Doctor of Medicine degree
Other Requirements Residency program
Licensure Licensure required by all states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 14% for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2015) $187,200 or greater for all psychiatrists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Psychopharmacologists prescribe psychotropic medications, which affect behavior, the mind and emotions, to patients with mental illnesses. Psychopharmacologists use their extensive knowledge of the nervous system, mental disorders, dosage, drug side effects, drug interactions and how drugs affect the body's systems to develop a treatment plan. Psychopharmacologists can also work as researchers or for drug companies, testing and developing medications.

Education Requirements

Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring psychopharmacologists must obtain a four-year degree while following a pre-med curriculum, which includes courses in physics, chemistry, biology, English and math. Medical schools only require applicants to complete prerequisite courses; they do not require a degree in a specific program. Many students prepare for a career in the medical field by earning degrees in scientific fields, including biomedical engineering, biological sciences, chemistry and human physiology.

Medical Degree

After completing their undergraduate studies, aspiring psychopharmacologists apply to an accredited medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine or other postgraduate degree. During the first two years of medical school, students receive classroom-based instruction in the sciences, diseases and medicine. Students begin taking electives and clinical clerkships in hospitals the third and fourth year of medical school. Potential psychopharmacologists may consider selecting electives in pharmacology and psychiatry.


Medical school graduates enter a psychiatry or pharmacology residency program after completing their schooling. During residency, graduates receive in-depth training within their chosen field and practice medicine under the supervision of a senior physician.


After completing the program, individuals may take the respective exam offered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in order to become certified in a specialty or subspecialty. They may also take the certification exam offered by the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology. Although this exam is not required to practice psychopharmacology, it will establish a licensed psychiatrist's qualifications in the field of psychopharmacology.


Prospective candidates may also consider completing a fellowship, which is designed to further train physicians in a medical subspecialty. Fellows may conduct clinical research on mood disorders and other topics in the field. They may also be required to travel and provide consultations for patients.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of physicians and surgeons, including psychiatrists specializing in psychopharmacology, is expected to grow by 14% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported the median annual salary earned by psychiatrists as $187,200 or greater in May 2015.

Psychopharmacologists are licensed physicians who focused their studies in psychiatry or pharmacology, and have a knowledge of drugs used to treat mental illness. They can see patients or work as a researcher. Becoming a psychopharmacologist requires significant formal education and training, including medical school, residency, and sometimes additional fellowship.

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