Psychiatry Degree Programs with Course Information

Explore the curriculum and requirements involved in becoming a psychiatrist. Read about licensing, career options and employment projections for the field.

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Essential Information

Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who work to diagnose and treat people with mental health disorders. Aspiring psychiatrists must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and medical school coursework may include psychiatric courses such as neurobiology, prescription of psychiatric drugs, and the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. After four years of medical school, candidates then go on to spend a minimum of four years in a residency program in psychiatry. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists can prescribe medication, which often involves meeting additional state and federal licensure and registry requirements.

Educational Prerequisites

Medical school applicants are generally required to have earned a bachelor's degree. Some medical schools require that students have completed a pre-med or closely related major in undergraduate school. Entrance to a psychiatry concentration in medical school might depend on prior coursework, though some psychiatry departments will accept any student granted general admission to medical school.

Program Coursework

In addition to general medical school course topics like science, clinical practice and medical ethics, psychiatry students earning their M.D. take classes geared toward clinical mental healthcare. These classes might cover topics like:

  • Interviewing patients
  • Substance abuse
  • Psychiatric emergencies
  • Doctor-patient ethics
  • Psychiatric disorders

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that psychiatrists have high earning potential, with a median annual wage of $167,610 in May 2010 (www.bls.gov). Potential earnings vary, depending on the chosen subspecialty. For example, BLS data showed that psychiatrists working in nursing care facilities and outpatient treatment centers earned the highest wages among medical specialists. The BLS predicted that employment prospects for all physicians, including psychiatrists, would be favorable during the 2008-2018 decade.

Continuing Education, Licensure and Certification Information

After earning a Doctor of Medicine, aspiring psychiatrists must complete further medical training through a residency program. The residency may be completed at a hospital or other medical institution or through the M.D. graduate's medical school. During this time, psychiatrists work hands-on with patients and often continue to pursue teaching and research projects under the guidance of medical school faculty. Some psychiatric residency programs include continued coursework in psychiatry with lecture and lab components. After a residency, some prospective psychiatrists choose to complete a fellowship program in general psychiatry or a subspecialty area, such as geriatric psychiatry or neuropsychiatry.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes that an individual interested in practicing as a psychiatrist must obtain licensure from the state in which he or she intends to work and obtain a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) registry number (www.psych.org). Aspiring psychiatrists in several states also are required to obtain a narcotics license through the state, according to the APA.

The APA also notes that some managed care organizations require that psychiatrists be board certified. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology offers certification in psychiatry as well as a number of subspecialty areas, including child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and addiction psychiatry (www.abpn.com).

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