Psychiatrist University and College Program Options

Students who want to become psychiatrists must obtain their Doctor of Medicine as well as the proper licensing. This academic path takes around 12 years to complete and includes undergraduate school, medical school and a residency program.

Essential Information

Students who enter undergraduate programs with the goal of becoming psychiatrists often major in psychology and take science classes that will help them prepare for medical school entrance examinations. Other majors that include biology, chemistry and physiology coursework can also prepare students to meet medical school admissions prerequisites and earn acceptable scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

After completing a bachelor's degree program, aspiring psychiatrists must enter medical school and earn a general Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and complete a residency. To be accepted to a residency program, students will be expected to have passing scores on parts 1 and 2 of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Doctor of Medicine (MD)

The medical school curriculum is designed to provide students with a foundation in the biomedical sciences and develop their clinical skills. Medical school students take first- and second-year coursework consisting of lab experiences and lecture classes in the biomedical sciences. The remaining two years are spent completing clerkships and electives. Topics of study can include:

  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Neurobiology
  • Behavioral medicine and psychopathology

Psychiatry Residency

Psychiatry residencies are typically four years long and include study in internal medicine and neurology. After completing this requirement, residents take on additional coursework and clinical rotations designed to give them an increasing amount of patient care responsibility in areas including child psychiatry, emergency psychiatry and substance abuse. Psychiatry residents receive clinical instruction in the form of grand rounds and rotations where they learn to provide patient care under the supervision of faculty. They must also complete lecture courses and seminars. Topics of study can include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Cultural psychiatry
  • Psychodynamic theory

Continuing Education and Licensure Information

Graduates of psychiatry residency programs are qualified to sit for certification exams issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. This voluntary board certification is used to affirm physicians' qualifications in their specialty area and can help them demonstrate their expertise to prospective patients.

Students who would like to become psychiatrists will begin in an undergraduate program in psychology or something similar, followed by a four-year doctoral degree program and a four-year residency. Once these programs have been completed, physicians can apply for professional board certification.

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