Psychiatrist Education Requirements, Prerequisites and Career Info

Psychiatrists are doctors who address their patients' mental and emotional health care needs. Practicing psychiatrists have completed medical school as well as a supervised residency of training and patient practice. They must also be licensed and certified in order to practice their work.

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Education Requirements for a Psychiatrist

As undergraduate students, many future psychiatrists earn a bachelor's degree in biology or psychology. These 4-year degree programs provide the basis for future studies in medical areas. Students planning to enter graduate medical programs should strive for a high GPA. Common courses include:

  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Advanced mathematics

The Medical College Admission Test

All students who seek to enter medical school must pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The Association of American Medical Colleges (www.aamc.org) puts together this standardized test for potential medical school applicants. The test provides four separate scores for the various reading, writing and multiple-choice questions. Scoring well on the MCAT is helpful in determining a student's potential entry into the best programs.

Doctor of Medicine and Medical Residency

Aspiring psychiatrists must complete four years of medical school where they take classes on histology, human anatomy, immunology and pharmacology. After medical school, graduates complete a residency program, in which they receive training in mental health care by working directly with patients in clinics and hospitals. Under the supervision of licensed doctors, residents diagnose patient illnesses and create treatment plans.

Prerequisites

Licensure

Psychiatrists must hold medical licenses from the state in which they practice. To become licensed, students must pass a multi-step exam that begins during medical school. People earning the M.D. degree (Doctor of Medicine) take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE (www.usmle.org). Students earning the D.O. degree (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) take the COMLEX (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination), a similar multi-part test. Either type of medical degree may lead to a career as a psychiatrist.

Licensed psychiatrists are periodically required to renew their licenses by their state board of medicine. Requirements for renewal may include completing continuing medical education coursework. Psychiatrists may check with their state board for more specific information.

Certification

Psychiatrists must obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) in order to legally practice. All psychiatry certification candidates need a medical license. Board certification shows patients and employers that the psychiatrist has appropriate knowledge from their completed specialty-specific training. The certification verifies this competence. The ABPN also offers subspecialty certifications in:

  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Adolescent and child psychiatry
  • Pain medicine
  • Sleep medicine
  • Forensic psychiatry

Career Information

Of the nearly 24,210 psychiatrists employed in 2012, most worked in a doctor's office, psychiatric care hospital or substance abuse hospital, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the same year, the BLS reported that psychiatrists averaged $177,520 annually (www.bls.gov). Outside outpatient care, some psychiatrists also conduct research and publish their findings in medical journals. Psychiatrists may also give lectures at national psychiatry and medical conferences or go into academia.

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