Contrary to a number of stereotypes, psychiatry is not magic or voodoo. Psychiatry is a complex profession, which requires an exceptional skill set. Stimulating both the left and right sides of the brain, psychiatry combines math-and-science-based medicine with behavior-and-emotion-focused mental health. This physician specialty can be emotionally taxing at times, but for are passionate about treating mental illness, psychiatry can yield an impactful and rewarding career.
What is a Psychiatrist?
First and foremost, psychiatrists are physicians, meaning they hold either a M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and have the right to prescribe medication.
In their primary role, psychiatrists diagnose, treat and work to prevent mental, addictive, behavioral and emotional disorders. A combination of extensive medical preparation coupled with a wide understanding of psychology and mental health is what enables psychiatrists to excel in their field.
In their day-to-day practice, psychiatrists, (based on their specialty) may be responsible for:
Understanding the Educational Path to Become a Psychiatrist
A medical doctorate degree and psychiatric residency are the primary educational requirements for a profession as a board-certified psychiatrist. However, the educational path begins by receiving a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university. A successful candidate for this profession will possess exceptionally strong skills in the math and science, written and verbal communications.
Strong interpersonal skills, an understanding of emotions and specialized training in the social, psychological and medical aspects of the human mind are also requirements for becoming a successful Psychiatrist. This skill set is often the focus of core educational course study while in college.
Additionally, since a Psychiatrist needs to develop an expertise in treatment options, theories of therapy and the prescription/administration of medications.
Educational Path of a Psychiatrist
Earn a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor’s degree is the first higher-education step toward becoming a Psychiatrist. Although Psychiatrists complete a broad range of undergraduate majors, students should complete the courses the American Association of Medical Colleges found most medical schools require as prerequisites: biology, physics, chemistry, along with written and oral communication course study.
During their undergraduate degree, students wanting to gain an edge in the competitive medical school application pool would benefit from taking career and advanced education oriented steps like joining pre-medical organizations, completing community service at mental health centers, shadowing physicians and studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Before graduating, a candidate should apply to medical school. Medical school is a four-year process, leading to an advanced degree in the medical field, either a M.D. or D.O.
Complete a medical school program
During medical school, future Psychiatrists spend their first year primarily in the classroom absorbing knowledge in areas like anatomy, histology, pathology, biochemistry, psychology, ethics and preparing for Objective Structured Clinical Exams. The second year, while still in the classroom, is more clinically focused. Third and fourth year students move into clinical rotations and are exposed to a wide range of potential specializations, including psychiatry.
Complete a Residency
Following medical school, graduates pursuing psychiatry should elect to complete their four-year residency in the specialty. Psychiatry residents need to complete 36 months of additional training after the first year of general residency, as required by the American Psychiatric Association. These three years focus on specific training areas, such as psychopharmacology, substance abuse and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Psychiatrists should be aware that board certification, which is necessary for legal practice, must be renewed every 10 years. Continued education is required in order to renew certification, and credits for the psychiatric field must meet specific standards. For more information about continuing education requirements, review the ABPN website.
Understanding the Career Path of Becoming a Psychiatrist
Among the most popular practice settings for psychiatrists are inpatient facilities, treatment centers, hospitals and private practices. Other roles filled by psychiatrists include positions in full-time research or niche fields such as forensic psychiatry or working with the military.
Psychiatrists may also teach courses to future doctors, the local community or physicians in other specialties, present research at conferences, write books and/or serve as evaluators for professional societies and boards.
Professional organizations can be used as a means for networking, community service, think tanks, research, continued education and specialized learning. In psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) dominates the market with a membership of more than 36,000. It is currently the world’s largest professional organization focused on psychiatry.
According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for psychiatrists is $182,660.While a 2013 Medscape report found average compensation for psychiatrists was higher the pediatrics, internal medicine and family medicine, it still ranked in the lower third of physician incomes by specialty.
According to research by AMN Healthcare company Merritt Hawkins, psychiatry is one of the most in demand medical professions. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 1 in 4 adults suffers from a mental disorder each year. Although psychiatric specialties have increased among medical residents, there is still a growing need for psychiatrists, offering a promising job outlook.
The educational and career path for learning how to become a Psychiatrist begins and ends with personal initiative. The successful candidate will have the unique ability to understand the science of Psychology with the interpersonal abilities to listen to the concerns facing patients. Becoming a Psychologist is not an easy path – however, when successfully navigated, a Psychologist can provide exceptional services to those in need.