Undergraduate Majors for Aspiring Psychiatrists

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Students who aspire to become psychiatrists must first complete an undergraduate degree before becoming eligible for admission to medical school. Popular majors for these students include psychology, biology, and chemistry. If a pre-med track isn't available, undergraduate students may be responsible for planning their curriculum so that med school prerequisites are completed.

These degrees will last about four years of full-time study and require students to hold a high school diploma or GED and SAT or ACT scores. The curriculum of each program typically includes both didactic courses and extensive laboratory sessions. While the labs will need to be taken on-campus, some programs offer a significant number online options for other courses.

Bachelor of Science in Psychology

Psychology majors study factors affecting cognitive, emotional, social, and intellectual development and the physiological causes of abnormal psychology. Courses in biopsychology are especially helpful to students preparing for medical school because topics include brain chemistry and the science of brain function.

However, students in a psychology program should supplement their major coursework with interdisciplinary studies in chemistry, biology or physics to meet all medical school admission requirements and prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

Coursework is a combination of clinical observation, case studies and lectures. Students may also find themselves conducting their own experiments in the following courses:

  • Cognitive psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Biopsychology
  • Abnormal psychology

Bachelor of Science in Biology

These programs provide academic advisement to students to ensure that they complete the minimum course requirements for admission into medical school and are prepared to score well on the MCAT. All biology majors take molecular and cellular biology courses. Chemistry and physics classes are also required. Students in a pre-medical program take additional courses in advanced topics, such as animal physiology, microbiology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics.

Required labs introduce students to research skills and may be completed on-campus in cadaver or medical laboratories or through field experiments at a biological preserve. These outings supplement material introduced in the following courses:

  • Molecular biology and cell biology.
  • Human anatomy
  • Ecology
  • Immunology
  • Genetics

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry

Much like a pre-medical biology major, requirements for a degree in chemistry include interdisciplinary courses in biology and physics. Chemistry majors, however, will need a strong mathematics background since courses in calculus and physics are also required. A pre-medical chemistry program also stresses analytical skills.

Most chemistry courses include a laboratory requirement. Students spend three hours a week receiving class lectures and an additional two to three hours in the laboratory. Introductory and advanced courses include:

  • Organic chemistry
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Physical chemistry
  • Quantitative analysis

Salary Info and Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reports that psychiatrists earned a mean annual salary of $220,430 in May 2019. The majority of psychiatrists were employed at physicians' offices and hospitals. Among the top paying employers were home health care, outpatient care centers, and individual and family services.

Continuing Education Information

After completing their undergraduate degrees, aspiring psychiatrists enroll in four years of medical school. A 4-year residency program follows, offered through the psychiatry department of a school of medicine. Students can specialize in general, child and adolescent or geriatric counseling via a combination of clinical rotations and coursework. Courses cover neuroscience, psychopharmacology, observation and interview methods and psychotherapy.

To become a practicing psychiatrist, students must take a certification examination given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). This 2-part examination measures psychiatrists' clinical and diagnostic skills. Additional examinations may also be required for psychiatrists practicing subspecialties in adolescent or geriatric psychiatry.

A bachelor's in psychology, biology, or chemistry helps to prepare future psychiatrists for medical school, teaching them the skills that will eventually become the foundation of their professional knowledge. Job options are numerous and lucrative, with certification available in addition to doctoral education.

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