If you’re reading this post, you’re probably curious about psychiatry. Maybe you’re even considering becoming a psychiatrist. This journey is long and challenging, requiring years of studying and lifelong, continued professional development. It’s also worthwhile because you can help people with mental health disorders with the highest level of expertise. Whether you’re just starting to research your options or already set on your path, this post provides a full overview of the steps to becoming a psychiatrist.
What Is a Psychiatrist?
The American Psychiatric Association defines psychiatry as “the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.” Therefore, a psychiatrist is the expert who performs the diagnosis, provides the treatment, and works to help people overcome their disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, which means they have a high level of training and assist clients at that level.
Psychiatrists may help people with conditions including:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders
The above list is not exhaustive, as psychiatrists may treat many other conditions, making it clear why the training is so extensive. A psychiatrist is qualified to treat any mental health condition.
Benefits of Being a Professional Psychiatrist
A person may decide to train to become a professional psychiatrist for many reasons. Despite the challenges of becoming a psychiatrist, many people find it an advantageous career choice with many benefits.
Opportunity to Help Others
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a professional psychiatrist is the opportunity to help others. By working with clients who need assistance, you can watch them grow and heal. As a psychiatrist, each day, you will provide clients with compassionate care, support, and treatment, helping them to manage their symptoms, improve their mental health, and enhance their overall quality of life
Another way that you can help people by working as a psychiatrist is by promoting awareness around the often touchy subject of mental health. As a psychiatrist, you’d be in a prime position to advocate for policies and programs that support mental health, allowing you to positively impact society as a whole.
Helping others can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, and psychiatry provides an excellent opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and even to mentor up-and-coming mental health professionals through their education and training.
Another benefit of a career in psychiatry is the job security it provides. Mental health is a growing concern, so there is a high demand for psychiatrists in many regions. This demand is expected to grow in the coming years, creating new job opportunities for psychiatrists nationwide. With high demand causing a shortage of psychiatrists in many cities, if you choose a degree in psychiatry, you’re likely to look forward to job security and steady employment.
The potential for earnings for a psychiatrist is strong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can earn more than $100 an hour as a psychiatrist, with the average professional psychiatrist bringing in just more than $120 an hour.
Your earning potential may vary depending on your experience level, the specialization you choose, and where your clients are. Working with clients in larger cities may bring in higher income. The more experience you have, the higher rate you can charge.
Also, with the rise of telehealth, you’re no longer limited to clients in your local area, meaning that even if you live in a more rural area, you may have the opportunity to service clients in higher-income locations.
Opportunities for Advancement
The large number of conditions that a psychiatrist can treat means there are almost endless opportunities for advancement. You may choose to specialize in a certain area of mental health or use your continued professional development to add many different specialties.
Some subspecialties to consider include:
- Child and adolescent psychiatry
- Community psychiatry and public health
- Emergency psychiatry
- Forensic (legal) psychiatry
- Geriatric psychiatry
- Military psychiatry
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Psychiatry in general medical settings
Specializing in a specific area of psychiatry can also lead to career advancement opportunities, such as leadership, research, or teaching positions. Many psychiatrists pursue advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or master’s degree, in addition to their medical degree to further their education and expertise in their area of specialization.
You could also become involved in research, developing new treatments and interventions to improve mental health outcomes for people worldwide.
Becoming a psychiatrist allows you to be flexible in a variety of ways. For one, you can work in almost any number of different settings.
Some of the places available for you to work as a psychiatrist include:
- Academic health centers
- Community agencies
- Courts and prisons
- Emergency rooms
- General and psychiatric hospitals
- Hospice programs
- Industry, government, and military settings
- Nursing homes
- Private practice
- Rehabilitation programs
This variety of opportunities allows you to choose a work environment that best fits your interests and career goals. For example, some psychiatrists may prefer the fast-paced environment of a hospital, while others may like the autonomy of private practice. Remember that you’re not limited by the one you initially choose if it turns out not to be a great fit. Your education, expertise, and credentials give you many options.
As well as workplace flexibility, many psychiatrists benefit from working part-time. This option means you could balance work with other responsibilities, such as family or other commitments.
With the rise of telemedicine, you can also work remotely. This option means you can reach a wider pool of potential clients than if you were limited to face-to-face appointments with people in your area. This approach can be particularly useful for those who live in rural or remote areas or who wish to work with patients from different regions.
What Do Psychiatrists Do?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in treating mental illness and emotional disorders. As a psychiatrist, you would be responsible for diagnosing and treating many different conditions, from anxiety and mood disorders to psychotic disorders.
You would also have to determine the best treatment plan, whether that be through prescribing medication or utilizing therapies.
Tasks that psychiatrists typically perform include:
- Diagnosing Mental Illness – As a psychiatrist, you’ll receive the training needed to be able to evaluate clients and determine if they have a mental illness or emotional disorder.
- Treating Mental Illness – You then work with your clients to develop a treatment plan that may include therapy, medication, or a combination. You may also recommend lifestyle changes or refer clients to other healthcare providers for additional support.
- Talk Therapy – Psychotherapy can help people work through emotional issues, improve their coping skills, and learn to manage their symptoms. This service is something that many psychiatrists provide.
- Prescribing Medication – In addition to therapy, you may decide that medication is the right option for managing your client’s symptoms. As a medical doctor, you can prescribe medication if necessary. Part of your role as their psychiatrist is to carefully monitor the client’s response to the medication and adjust the dosage or type of medication as needed.
- Developing Care Plans – Creating comprehensive care plans considering each client’s unique needs and circumstances may include coordinating care with other healthcare providers or social services agencies.
- Collaborating with Other Healthcare Providers – As a psychiatrist, you will likely work as part of a team with other healthcare providers, such as psychologists, social workers, and primary care physicians, to provide comprehensive patient care. You may also need to consult with other specialists, such as neurologists or addiction specialists.
- Conducting Research – One of the goals of many psychiatrists is to expand the body of knowledge in the mental health field. This focus means working with others or alone to perform original research and publish it in professional journals. While research isn’t a requirement of the profession, it makes you more well-known and dramatically expands your contribution to the field.
As you can see, psychiatrists are responsible for many crucial tasks to provide their clients with the best possible outcomes.
What Skills Are Required of a Psychiatrist?
To become a psychiatrist, you will need the knowledge and experience that medical school can provide. You’ll also need strong clinical skills to do this effectively and safely treat patients.
Effective communication skills are also critical in psychiatry, as psychiatrists must explain complex medical information to clients and their families in an understandable and empathetic way. Other clinical skills required include client management, collaboration with other healthcare providers, and documentation and record-keeping.
Clinical skills you’ll need to develop as a psychiatrist include:
- Medical Knowledge – One of the most important skills you’ll need is a strong foundation of medical knowledge, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and other medical sciences. Staying up-to-date on the latest research and developments in psychiatry is crucial to ensure you have the best information for each client.
- Diagnostic – To effectively diagnose clients, you’ll need to be able to quickly and accurately rule out other illnesses and conditions.
- Communication – You also must be a skilled communicator, able to explain complex medical information clearly and understandably to clients and their families. As well as this, you’ll often have to communicate with other healthcare providers.
You’ll also need some soft skills on top of the clinical skills required to be an effective psychiatrist.
Other skills that are essential for your success as a psychiatrist include:
- Empathy and Compassion – To make clients feel comfortable talking about sensitive mental health topics, you must be able to establish trust and build rapport with your clients. Without you demonstrating empathy and compassion, clients may find it difficult to fully open up, causing a barrier to appropriate treatment.
- Professionalism – Even in challenging or emotionally charged situations, you must be able to maintain professionalism. This skill includes being respectful, reliable, and accountable for their actions. It will help build trust and allow open conversations.
- Objectivity – You must maintain objectivity when working with clients and evaluating their symptoms. This trait means putting personal biases aside and making objective decisions based on the available evidence. If a client thinks you are judging them, they will be unable to trust you.
To become a successful psychiatrist, you’ll need to combine medical knowledge, clinical skills, and personal qualities, or soft skills.
What Education and Training Is Required?
Because psychiatry is an expert-level role, you must obtain three degrees before becoming licensed, taking at least twelve years.
The first step to becoming a psychiatrist is obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college. While any major is acceptable, many students choose pre-med, psychology, biology, or neuroscience majors to prepare for medical school. These give students the background that admissions committees at medical schools often look for. Some may prefer these majors as they provide a solid foundation for understanding medical concepts and preparing for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). But it’s possible to get into medical school with any accredited bachelor’s degree program as long as you meet the necessary requirements for admission.
Doctor of Medicine
After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll want to apply to medical schools. You’ll earn a medical degree by attending an accredited four-year medical school. At this school, you’ll cover topics such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics. During medical school, you’ll also be required to complete clinical rotations, which provide hands-on experience working with patients and various medical specialties.
The next step to becoming a psychiatrist is completing a psychiatry residency. These last another four years, bringing your total to twelve. But, you’ll finish with the experience and knowledge you need, such as gaining:
- Specialized training in psychiatry
- A better understanding of different areas of psychiatry
- Clinical experience working with patients in a real setting
- Knowledge of many treatment methods
- An opportunity to work with different healthcare providers
When you reach the end of your residency program, you can take the psychiatry board examination in the state you want to practice in. Then, you’ll be fully qualified and licensed to practice psychiatry.
Steps to Become a Psychiatrist
The steps to becoming a psychiatrist are the same nationwide. You begin by completing a college degree before moving on to a medical degree and then a residency before finally becoming a qualified psychiatrist. After that, to stay a successful psychiatrist, you’ll also need to keep up to date with the latest research.
In summary, the steps you need to complete to become a psychiatrist are:
- Earn an Undergraduate Degree – You must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Although you can choose to study any degree, majors such as psychology, biology, or pre-med may provide a solid foundation for medical school and psychiatry residency.
- Take the MCAT – The prerequisite for admission into medical school is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam that assesses your knowledge of science, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Medical schools look for different minimum scores for entry, so you must check your desired school’s requirements.
- Earn a Medical Degree – Upon successfully passing your MCAT, you should attend medical school for four years. Medical school allows you to obtain your MD and give you the background medical knowledge you need to practice psychiatry.
- Complete a Residency Program – Next up is a psychiatry residency program. This residency takes a further four years, during which you will get specialized training in psychiatry and gain hands-on experience working with patients.
- Obtain Licensure and Certification – After your residency, you’ll take the psychiatric board examination, allowing you to be licensed to practice psychiatry in your state.
- Continued Professional Development – Now you’re a psychiatrist, but the learning doesn’t stop. Depending on your interests, you may want to pursue a fellowship in a specific area of psychiatry, strengthening your skills and expertise. You’ll also want to ensure that you stay up-to-date on the latest research, techniques, and treatments, so you can learn and adapt your approach to stay in line with the latest information.
- Maintain Your Licensure – To keep your psychiatrist status, most states require that you complete a minimum number of continuing education credits each year. This education assures clients that any psychiatrist they meet uses the latest proven diagnostic and treatment tools.
All Counseling Supports Psychiatrists
All Counseling is an online platform that helps counselors and therapists connect with potential clients. By claiming your profile at All Counseling, you can create a professional online presence for yourself and make it easier for clients to find you.
With your profile, you can showcase your specialties and share details about yourself and your practice. You can use it to provide information about your services and even upload videos to allow potential clients to learn more about who you are and what kind of help you provide. This can equip them with the details they need to know if you would be a good fit for their needs and allow them to reach out to you easily if so.
Claiming your profile at All Counseling is an easy way to ensure potential clients can easily find out more about who you are as a professional counselor or therapist. This connection makes building relationships with those needing counseling services easier than ever.