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How to Become a Psychiatrist: Career & Education Info

Learn how to become a psychiatrist. Research the education and career requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in psychiatry.

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Do I Want to Be a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are licensed medical professionals who diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Along with prescribing medication, they may use a variety of psychiatric techniques, including psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Work may be especially challenging when working with patients who might be uncooperative, disoriented or even violent.

Job Requirements

A career in psychiatry entails undergraduate school, medical school and residency training. Licensing as a medical doctor is required, and optional certifications are available. The following table outlines common requirements to become a psychiatrist as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Common Requirements
Degree Level M.D.
Degree Field Psychiatry
Experience Four years of residency training
Licensure and Certification A state-issued license is required, voluntary certifications are available
Key Skills Verbal and written communication, leadership, organizational, problem solving, empathy, patience

Step 1: Attend Undergraduate School

Training for a career in psychiatry begins in undergraduate school, and a bachelor's degree is required for admission to medical school. Undergraduate students pursuing a career in psychiatry may consider majoring in psychology, but a specific major is not required. Regardless of major, students should take courses in the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology to ensure they have all of the necessary prerequisites for medical school admissions.

Success Tip

  • Volunteer. Medical school admissions tend to be highly competitive, and possessing a high GPA may not be enough to help a student stand out for admission. Aspiring psychiatrists can volunteer at local mental health centers or in hospitals as a way of demonstrating leadership skills while gaining hands-on experience working with patients.

Step 2: Earn a Medical Degree

Aspiring psychiatrists must complete the same medical school training as doctors, surgeons and other physicians. Medical degree programs typically take four years to complete. These programs are divided into two years of classroom and laboratory instruction and two years of supervised clinical experience. Courses may include pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and pathology. Students also learn to conduct medical exams and diagnose patients.

Step 3: Gain Residency Training

After medical school, psychiatrists must gain at least four years of post-doctoral training in residency programs. Residencies provide beginning psychiatrists with paid, clinical practice in hospitals. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that, after the first year of general medical residency, psychiatry residents must complete 36 months of required psychiatric training, learning about topics including psychopathology, psychopharmacology, cognitive behavioral therapy, substance abuse disorders and transcultural psychiatry.

Success Tips

  • Consider a subspecialty. Psychiatrists may choose to specialize in a specific area of psychiatry, such as geriatric psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine or addiction psychiatry. The APA may require candidates to complete an additional year of fellowship training in their subspecialties.

Step 4: Become Licensed

The APA notes that psychiatrists must become state-licensed physicians by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Licensing requirements and maintenance procedures are set by the states, and some licensing boards may allow reciprocity between states. To prescribe medication, psychiatrists must also acquire a federal narcotics license and register with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Step 5: Consider Board Certification

Professional psychiatrists may benefit from obtaining voluntary Board Certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Board Certification requires psychiatrists to possess a degree from an accredited medical school and a current state license to practice psychiatry. Additionally, candidates must pass a certification examination. Board Certification must be renewed every ten years.

Step 6: Continue Education

Psychiatrists should continue their education throughout their careers in order to stay current in industry trends and theories. Continuing education is required to renew Board Certification and may be required to renew licensure as well. Psychiatrists can continue their education through self-assessment activities, workshops, seminars and classes offered by approved institutions.

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