How to Become a Psychiatrist: Career & Education Info

Sep 26, 2019

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose and treat those with mental illnesses. Find out how long it takes to become a psychiatrist, the required psychiatrist education level, licensure requirements, and more by reading below.

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Psychiatrist Career Requirements

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who focuses on the treatment of mental illnesses. They are distinct from psychologists, as psychiatrists are fully trained doctors, with the ability to write prescriptions and provide diagnoses. Working as a psychiatrist often involves the rigorous application of therapy techniques, prescribing medicines to alleviate symptoms, and extensive discussion with patients to help them learn to overcome their condition.

So how long does it take to become a psychiatrist? In order to become a psychiatrist, it is necessary to attend an undergraduate program, proceed to a medical school and earn an M.D., and then complete a lengthy residency process before obtaining a license to practice. So, it can take as long as 12 years to complete these steps and become fully licensed. Psychiatrists may choose a specialty area by focusing on it in school or within their residency, for instance they might select a school with a child psychiatry specialization or focus on working with those with special needs during their residency.

Psychiatrist Education Requirements

Psychiatrists do go to medical school and must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). While most medical schools do not have a specific requirement for the undergraduate major of study, an aspiring psychiatrist might choose a major in psychology or pre-medicine. Getting into a medical school is difficult due to competition for spots, and admissions may require that applicants score highly on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), have an excellent academic record and undergrad GPA, and could even require in-person interviews.

Once they are enrolled in medical schools, students spend the first two years in the classroom and labs. They might take courses like:

  • Community learning & social medicine
  • Foundations of medicine
  • Anatomy & physiology
  • Pharmacology

The last two years of medical school generally consist of clinical rotations, offering students the opportunity to learn with real patients in a controlled environment. Psychiatric rotations will often feature different psychiatry specialties, such as geriatrics, addiction, and sleep medicine.

Psychiatrist Residency Programs

After graduating from medical school, 4 years of further supervised learning take place through what is called a residency program. Residencies usually take place at hospitals or other medical facilities which focus on psychiatry. Yearly written exams may be required during the period while in residency, such as the Psychiatry Resident-In-Training Examination (PRITE). Residencies allow soon-to-be psychiatrists to begin acquiring the experience needed to obtain licensure and work independently.

Licensure and Certification for Psychiatrists

All medical doctors must receive a license. Licensure requirements for psychiatrists vary from state to state, so always consult the laws and governing bodies in your state to ensure the most accurate information. Generally, this requires successful graduation from medical school and completion of a residency. Psychiatrists may also need to pass the national licensure exam, the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Licenses must generally be kept up-to-date and renewed on a regular basis, with renewal requirements typically involving documented continuing education.

Certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is an optional process that some psychiatrists might choose to go through after obtaining a license. Certification serves to demonstrate a professional's recognized skill in a particular area by the certifying body, and for psychiatrists, is usually done to emphasize one's specialty. Psychiatrists who pass the ABPN's certification exam will receive certification in a specialty. Certification also comes up for renewal regularly, and may require continuing education as well.

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