How to Become a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrist leading a therapy session

A psychiatrist works in a specialized branch of medicine that focuses on diagnosing, treating and preventing behavioral, mental and emotional disorders. This line of work requires professionals to have strong emotional intelligence, as they must be empathetic, compassionate and committed to providing the best possible care.

It also requires analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills, as a psychiatrist is responsible for planning an effective course of treatment for patients with varied challenges. If you’re thinking of becoming a psychiatrist, you’ll first need to earn an undergraduate psychiatrist degree.

Is a Psychiatrist the Same as a Psychologist?

The terms “psychiatry” and “psychology” are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different. A psychiatrist is a physician who has a medical degree, whereas a psychologist is a non-physician professional who has completed a doctoral degree, rather than medical school. Psychiatrists work with patients, whereas psychologists work with clients. And while a psychiatrist can prescribe medications, psychologists usually cannot.

What Do Psychiatrists Do?

Psychiatrists evaluate patients, discussing their medical histories and symptoms, and sometimes order lab tests or other assessments. They will consider the possibility that the patient is experiencing symptoms related to a physical health problem. Once a diagnosis is made, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication and recommend other treatments, such as light therapy, electroconvulsive therapy and talk therapy. He or she might also refer the patient to another professional, such as a psychologist.

Psychiatrists often work with patients who have health conditions that can often benefit from medication, such as the following:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety and depressive disorders

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

It takes a great deal of schooling to become a psychiatrist. After high school, aspiring psychiatrists must earn a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes four years. This is followed by four years of medical school and then a four-year residency program. Some psychiatrists also complete fellowship programs for additional training.

Which Undergraduate Psychiatrist Degree Do You Need?

There is no specific undergraduate psychiatrist degree that is required. Some students major in psychology, while others major in a pre-medicine program. Although there is flexibility regarding your choice of degree, it’s necessary to take plenty of science and mathematics courses. This is why a pre-med program is a good choice. If you choose to major in pre-med, consider minoring in psychology.

Before choosing an undergraduate psychiatrist degree program, it’s a good idea to take a look at your options for medical school. Examine the entrance requirements for a few different medical schools, and then ensure that the degree program you choose will allow you to meet those requirements.

How Can You Get Into Medical School?

Each medical school has its own entrance requirements. In general, however, you can expect to need a passing score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This rigorous, 7.5-hour exam covers a wide range of topics, including biology, chemistry, biochemistry and psychology, as well as general critical analysis and reasoning skills. After graduating with your BS degree, you should plan on spending plenty of time studying for the MCAT.

Which Medical School Track Should Future Psychiatrists Choose?

When you are accepted into medical school, you can choose one of two tracks. You could earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. The difference between these tracks is that a DO takes a holistic view to diagnostics and treatment, whereas an MD focuses on using medications to treat symptoms and their underlying causes.

Do Psychiatrists Need to Complete a Residency?

Yes, an aspiring psychiatrist does need to complete a four-year residency program. During the last two years of medical school, students can expect hands-on training at teaching hospitals and similar facilities. A residency is like an extension of this. Residents work in hospitals and clinics, where they diagnose, treat and monitor patients experiencing a broad range of challenges. Since you aspire to become a psychiatrist, you’ll choose a psychiatric residency program. Expect to work under the guidance of licensed psychiatrists.

After completing a four-year residency, some psychiatrists will go on to complete fellowship programs. A fellowship involves additional, in-depth training in a subspecialty. For example, a psychiatrist may complete a fellowship in any of the following subfields:

  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Pediatric psychiatry
  • Neuropsychiatry

Do Psychiatrists Need a Medical License?

All psychiatrists need a medical license in order to practice. In some states, residents can qualify to take the licensing exam after completing just one year of their residency. Other states require additional experience. An MD will take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and DOs will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

In addition to earning a medical license, you must earn a certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). This certification is legally required to practice as a psychiatrist, and it must be renewed periodically. Some professionals may choose to earn additional certifications in subspecialties in order to enhance their credentials.

At Grand Canyon University, aspiring psychiatrists can choose from an array of pre-med undergraduate psychiatrist degree programs. For example, you might consider enrolling in the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Medicine degree or the Bachelor of Science in Psychology program. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin your academic journey at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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