Clinical Psychiatrist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Clinical psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in using clinical practices in the treatment of mental illnesses and disorders, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and addictions. The path to becoming a clinical psychiatrist requires many years of schooling, beginning with an undergraduate degree program and concluding with years of practice in a residency.

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Clinical Psychiatrist Job Description

Clinical psychiatrists evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with mental disorders. They may work in offices, hospitals or mental health clinics. Clinical psychiatrists may prescribe medication or suggest therapy according to their patents' needs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted in May 2013 that the average annual salary of psychiatrists, including clinical psychiatrists, was $182,660. Employment of physicians and surgeons, including psychiatrists, was anticipated to increase 18% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS.

Job Duties

Clinical psychiatrists are responsible for analyzing a patient's mental health status and providing the necessary treatment. They may admit patients to hospitals, order tests, prescribe medication or recommend therapy. Additionally, they hold regular discussions with patients to diagnose mental disorders or assess a patent's response to treatment. Some clinical psychiatrists manage their own practices, while others, such as those who work in hospitals or clinics, may report to a supervisor.

Educational Requirements

Prospective clinical psychiatrists must complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program. Pre-medicine bachelor's degree programs are designed for future medical students, with courses in subjects such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, physics, psychology and social sciences. According to the BLS, students do not necessarily need to major in pre-medicine, but because of the scientific nature of medicine, it is advisable that students select a major that includes substantial coursework in math and science (www.bls.gov). Graduates typically must pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before applying to medical school (www.aamc.org). The MCAT assesses a student's ability to complete a medical degree program.

Medical school generally takes four years to complete, with the first two years devoted to classroom coursework and the final two years devoted to medical practice. During the practicum or internship, students complete rotations through all areas of medicine, including pediatrics, surgery and internal medicine. Some schools offer psychiatry clerkship programs, in which medical students can receive training in psychiatry before going into their residency.

It is toward the end of medical school when most students select their specialty. Students then go on to a residency or fellowship in psychiatry. Residents may choose to specialize in a certain area, such as adult inpatient, emergency or child psychiatry. They must work under the supervision of a licensed doctor, assessing, observing and treating patients as needed. The residency may take up to four years, and residents may also be required to take a final exam.

Career Requirements

After completing medical school and completing residency requirements, graduates must take and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which is a three-step test that covers human science, clinical knowledge, skills and patient management (www.usmle.org). After passing the test and meeting all state requirements, graduates will be licensed to practice medicine. Board certification is a separate process that requires the completion of a residency. Through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, physicians can become board certified in general psychiatry and in a subspecialty of psychiatry, such as clinical neurophysiology (www.abpn.com). Clinical psychiatrists must study to keep up with advances in medicine.

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