How to Become a Psychiatrist: Job Description, Education Requirements & Salary


Two psychiatrists walk into a bar…Wait, have you heard this one already? Alright we will spare you our bad jokes for today and get right into the really fun stuff. Today we are going to give you the lowdown on how to get your start in the world of psychiatry. If this is your cup of tea then keep reading with us while we tell you all you need to know about how to become a psychiatrist.

How to Become a Psychiatrist

Before you decide if you want to become a psychiatrist there are some questions that you should ask yourself and you can base your decision upon your responses. Let’s try it now, shall we? Grab a pen so that you can write down the answers here. Now ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I enjoy being in one on one situations or would I rather be in a group?
  • Am I ok with allowing others to lead conversations and even monopolize them at times?
  • How do I handle stress?
  • Will I be able to keep my cool in a stressful and tense situation while acting accordingly?
  • Am I comfortable with having people place a lot of trust in me?
  • Am I a patient person? (this is a rather important question)
  • Does the human mind interest me? Do I want to learn more about it and the medications that may improve any issues that some people may have?
  • Does learning about mental illnesses like PTSD and bipolar disorder seem interesting?
  • Will I be able to memorize important information that will help me diagnose and treat patients?
  • Do I want to help people?

These are all important questions to ask yourself before fully committing to this career path. After answering them you will have a good idea as to whether or not you have a future as a psychiatrist. So if this career floats your boat, let’s move on to the juicy stuff!

Now let’s talk about how to become a psychiatrist!

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The beginning of your journey to become a psychiatrist is going to start with you getting an undergraduate degree. You’ll have to do this before you can take the MCAT, which is a test required to get into medical school.

When you are in the process of earning your bachelor’s degree it wouldn’t hurt to major in psychology, but there aren’t any specific requirements for a major selection.

You’ll want to bulk up on classes in natural science like physics, chemistry and biology though because they will help you knock out the prerequisites that are required for admission to med school.

Here are a few examples of schools that have psychology degrees:

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Step 2: Get Into Medical School and Earn a Degree

To become a psychiatrist you will actually have to become a medical doctor and this will require you to go through medical school to earn a degree. Your time in med school will be divided into two years of classroom and lab instruction and two years of supervised clinical experience. Some of the classes that you can expect to take during this time will be pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and pathology. You will also learn the proper way to conduct medical exams, diagnose and treat patients in med school, which will prepare you for the next step in becoming a psychiatrist.

Step 3: Enter Into a Residency Training Program

Once medical school is out of the way, you will be able to begin what is often seen as the most important part of becoming a psychiatrist – a residency program. During this phase you will be working as a doctor under strict supervision in a hospital setting. One of the awesome things about being a resident (besides getting to use all your skill from school) is that you finally get a paycheck! No more eating ramen or pop tarts as a dietary staple!

Step 4: Get Your License and Become Board Certified

Nearly every state requires psychiatrists to become licensed and board certified in order to practice in a professional capacity. You will be able to receive your license by acing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. To become a board certified psychiatrist, you will do so through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. You will have to provide proof that you graduated from an accredited medical school and will have to pass a certification exam. Your board certification will have to be renewed every ten years.

What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

The basic description of psychiatrist describes them as being a medical doctor that diagnoses and treats patients. We know that there is so much more to the day to day job of a psychiatrist though. To give you a better idea of what you could possibly be doing on a daily basis we did a bit of digging. We were able to find a pretty accurate description of what most psychiatrists do on a daily basis. Take a look:

  • Prescribe, guide and oversee patients psychotherapeutic treatments and medications that will treat their mental, emotional and behavioral issues
  • Study and evaluate all patients information, data and test findings in order to properly diagnose the nature and extent of the presented mental health issues
  • Work with other physicians, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric support staff and various other professionals. Working alongside these experienced people will help you to effectively discuss and determine what the best treatment plan is to enable patients to progress in mental health
  • Create care plans that are specific to each patient using a combination of treatments and medications
  • Collect and maintain patient information. The information that will be collected will be in the form social and medical history from both patients and their families
  • Counsel patients in both inpatient and outpatients visits
  • There will be times when laboratory or diagnostic tests (think MRI’s or CAT scans). These tests will help you determine if there is an underlying source for presented mental health issues
  • Give advice your patients’ caregivers about their conditions and treatments
  • Many psychiatrists are required to continuing education courses, attend conferences or seminars. Some also provide these services after a certain amount of experience is obtained. There will be ample time for research to be conducted as well which will then prompt you to publish your findings to aid colleagues in having a greater understanding of mental, emotional or behavioral issues
  • Submit case reports after they have been prepared to the appropriate mental health agencies or government entities
  • Act as an advocate of mental health care. Working in your community to promote support of patients and reaching out to those that may need help but aren’t sure where to go, will be an important duty in this profession

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

We’re going to be totally honest with you here, because you’re going to find out sooner or later no matter what we tell you. Ready? It’s going to take you roughly 12 years to complete all of the schooling and required residency. That’s a long time to have your nose stuck in a book, but if becoming a psychiatrist is the career that you really want it’s the only way to do it.

Here is a breakdown of exactly how you will spend the 12 years that it takes to become a psychiatrist:

  • Bachelor’s degree: 4 years
  • Medical school: 4 years
  • Residency: 4 years

We’d also like to add that you may be required to add on an additional year or two to complete fellowship requirements if you are going to specialize in a specific area of psychiatry.

Psychiatrist Salary

We went back to our old favorite, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to see what the most current salary expectations are for psychiatrists. Lucky for you, the BLS had the information we were looking for and we can assure you that you won’t be compensated in lollipops and high fives. I’m sure that’s a relief!

As of May 2013, the BLS reports that psychiatrists are earning a yearly salary of $122,300, which is that national median for all those in this position. As is the case with the vast majority of professions, there will be salary variations among those in the same profession. These differences in salary will be due to experience and the area of employment for both facility type and state/city location.

Psychiatrist Salary

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist – What is the Difference?

This is a very good question, especially because the two terms are often used interchangeably. The reality of it is that both are pretty different and vary greatly when it comes to their terms of content and scope of work. Indeed both psychiatrists and psychologists both offer mental health assistance, conduct research and act in a capacity as a therapist. Let’s sneak a look at some of the major differences between the two now.

One of the first major areas where psychiatrist will differ from psychology is in educational background. Psychiatrists are professionals with a degree in medicine, so DO’s or MD’s. Psychologists have master’s or doctorate degrees in psychology.

The next area that differs in the ability to prescribe patients medications to treat their mental health. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications on a regular basis and are education in that area specifically. Psychologists are not permitted to prescribe medication in nearly all states. We do know that there are exceptions to this rule and there are definitely two states that have different standards. New Mexico and Louisiana will allow psychologists to treat their patients with medication. They may only do so if they have a post doctorate degree or similar equivalent in clinical psychopharmacology.

Is One Better Than the Other?

The answer to this question really lies in how the individual psychiatrist or psychologist to be feels. There are interesting, rewarding and great things about each direction. There are likewise not so great, stressful and demanding things as well. One professional requires more schooling as the other does not. You ultimately will have to decide which one sparks your interest the month and the one that you are willing to invest the time into.

What are the Different Types of Psychiatry?

People come in all different shapes and sizes and the same can be said for the different types of mental health that can be provided. If you are going to become a psychiatrist you will have a few different options in terms of whom you can help. Let’s take a look at the main areas of psychiatry so that you can get an idea of what you’d like to be when you grow up.

General Adult Psychiatrists

As a general adult psychiatrist, you will be a medical doctor that has completed the required four years of psychiatric training. Since this is a more general practice, you would train to treat patients with a variety of psychiatric issues. You may have some patients that will have depression and will be highly functioning, and then you will have those that suffer from severe mental illness and will require a lot of monitoring.

Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists

To become a child and adolescent psychiatrist you will have to complete a  two year fellowship in the field. In addition to being trained in assist children and adolescents with their mental health needs, you will also be required to complete training in the area of general adult psychiatry. This type of psychiatrist is specially educated to effectively treat a myriad of psychiatric issues in every age range. You will have the ability to specifically focus on children and adolescents, however, which is likely to be pretty rewarding (that’s totally our 2 cents and you can tell us to stick it in our piggy banks if you want).

Addiction Psychiatrists

This one is pretty self explanatory. You will work with addicts in various settings here and there will be certain areas of training within alcohol and drug addiction and recovery that you will have a solid foundation.

Forensic Psychiatrist

Forensic psychiatry is definitely an interesting path pursue in this field. It will mostly have you working in hospitals, prisons and as an expert witness for criminal cases.

Great Psychiatrists that are Alive Today

Most of us have some knowledge about the life and studies of psychiatrists of long ago, such as Freud and Jung, but we think it’s time to take a look at some psychiatrists that are leading the field today. The dudes we are going to cover today are the tops dogs in modern day psychiatry and are paving the way those you that will be cracking open a DSM – V.

Allen Frances

Allen Frances is a well-known American psychiatrist that is also a professor emeritus (fancy word for retired – thank you Google) at North Carolina’s, Duke University. He was once also chair of the department of psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine. To add to awesomeness, Frances was also holder of a chair position on the DSM – IV Task Force. Frances is now largely known for his stance against some of the changes that were made to the DSM’s fifth addition. He’s recently even spoken out in an open editorial in the New York Times.

Keith Ablow

Keith Ablow is possibly one of the more recognizable psychiatrists currently. Ablow is rather popular as an expert witness, best-selling author, Fox News contributor and he even had his own talk show for a brief time. He founded the New England Brain – Mind Institute that supports insight oriented psychotherapy. During his time as a practicing forensic, adult and adolescent psychiatry he covered some pretty high profile cases, such as those of Clark Rockefeller and Mary Winkler.

Michael First

Michael first is an American psychiatrist who was educated at mega schools, Princeton, the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia – Presbyterian Medical Center. He is now a Professor Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia Univeristy. First is a notable contributor to many literary and diagnostic discussions. He writes a lot about depression and eating disorders, even coining the phrase “body integrity identity disorder”. This phrase refers to the phenomena of people having a desire to amputate a limb or become willingly paralyzed. He’s provided his expert opinion for some pretty major cases too. He was an expert contributor during the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, an Al Qaeda conspirator.

Robert Spitzer

Robert Spitzer is now retired but he was a pretty heavy hitter when it comes to contributing to the modern classification system for mental health disorders. He is actually often referred to as one of the most influential psychiatrists of the 20th century. Spitzer was a long time member of the research faculty at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He got received some major props when he was awarded the Thomas Salmon Medal that is given by the New York Academy of Medicine.

Ray Blanchard

Ray Blanchard is a American and Canadian hybrid psychiatrist that has a solid reputation in addiction specialization and gender identity disorders. Blanchard was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois. He completed his post doctoral research at Dalhousie University, which is where the love of maple leaves and bagged milk (yes, Canadians totes drink milk out of a bag) comes into play because this university is located in Nova Scotia. He is now the professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto (Oh, Canada). He is also known for his research on the order that fraternal birth order affects sexual orientations, male to female gender dysphoria as well a few other paraphilias.

Hold It – Watch This Video From Dr. Kit

 We found a pretty cool video from a psychiatrist by the name if Dr. Kit and we’ve got the hand it to him because he really knows his…shit (excuse us a moment while we fight the urge to add a bad limerick here).

Dr. Kit is currently working as a psychiatrist and a teacher, so he’s pretty busy, but he found a few spare minutes to put together a video that you may find to be super helpful. He discusses what he does on a daily basis as well as the schooling required, the pros and cons of this profession and a few other things. It’s only eight minutes long, so paint your toenails or have a snack while you watch it because we know that you’ll get something out of it! Click here to watch it on YouTube or press play below to hang around with us while you watch it.

Final Grade

In preparation for the many different grading systems and means of categorizing that you will eventually encounter as a psychiatrist, take a gander at our final grades for the profession. We promise you won’t need to be prescribed any medication to cope with what we are about to dish out!

Degree vs. Debt: B+

We are happy to report that this is definitely a career that will pay for itself once you are out of the residency stages, fully licensed and able to practice. Yes, you will be required to complete 8 years of schooling and with that will also come 8 years of debt. Keep in mind that you will get paid during your residency and will soon be making a pretty substantial salary that will allow you to pay back those pesky student loans.

Difficulty of Degree: C

This is a doozy of a career. Most of the difficulty comes from the duration of the schooling and the course work isn’t exactly a cake walk either. There are also quite a few math and science courses that can be a bit tricky for those of us that missed out on the super smart math/science gene. If you apply yourself and dedicate yourself to your education, you can do it though!

Happiness Quotient: B-

The happiness quotient for psychiatrists can be a pretty mixed bag just as Dr. Kit mentioned in the video that we have above. There will be times that you will love your job because you will be able to see how you are helping those with their mental health needs. There will also be times when this job will be stressful and frustrating too. You will have patients that are not progressing and the outcome can be devastating. Lastly, there is red tape that you will have to navigate with insurance companies and even hospitals, schools and government agencies.

Job Outlook: A

The job growth is pretty great for psychiatrists and it will likely continue to grow as our society better the mental health system that we currently have in place. As of now the BLS is projecting that the job growth for physicians is around 18-20 percent, which is faster than the average profession.

Also Try Consider These Careers

Psychologist Job Description

Social Worker Education and Training 

Sources and Recommended Reading

If you’d like to check out where you got all of this super interesting and helpful information from then start clicking on the links below. A ton of the information that we found is already in here, but there really is a lot more that we could say, but we decided to keep it short and sweet instead. Happy reading and let us know what you think!

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