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How to Become a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrist Credit: Shutterstock

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders. To become a psychiatrist, a person must complete medical school as well as an additional residency training program in psychiatry.

People seek psychiatric treatment for a variety of reasons, including panic attacks, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide or depression. Psychiatrists are qualified to diagnose and treat both the mental and physical aspects of these psychological disturbances.

If you’re considering a career as a psychiatrist, then you should know some key facts about this occupation before looking for a job. Keep reading to learn about what psychiatrists do, where they work, and how much they earn annually.

What psychiatrists do

A psychiatrist’s responsibilities are similar to that of any other medical doctor in that he or she must interpret patients’ medical histories, perform examinations and diagnostic tests, and provide patients with the most effective treatments available.

Psychiatrists use both psychological testing and interviews with patients to gain a better understanding of their patients’ mental states. They can then use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, to form an official diagnosis. The manual provides standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

A common treatment for mental disorders is psychotherapy, or talk therapy, which can be used to treat a variety of mental disorders and emotional difficulties. Psychotherapy aims to help patients control their symptoms in order to function better. Some psychiatrists perform group psychotherapy sessions for families or people with similar disorders.

Psychiatrists also treat patients using pharmaceutical medicines. These medicines can help correct imbalances in brain chemistry that are thought to be the source of some mental disorders. Many patients receive medication in conjunction with psychotherapy. Other psychological treatments include electroconvulsive therapy and deep brain stimulation. 

Psychiatrist salary

Psychiatrists, like other doctors, work in a variety of settings. They may work in private practices, clinics, hospitals, universities, rehabilitation facilities or emergency rooms. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50 percent of psychiatrists in the United States work in private practices, and many psychiatrists work in multiple settings.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for psychiatrists was $200,694 in 2010. A psychiatrist’s earnings typically vary depending on their experience, location and reputation in their field.

Becoming a psychiatrist

Psychiatrists must possess a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree, and they must complete a residency program of at least four years before becoming licensed to practice in the United States. Some psychiatrists also choose to receive additional training in a specialized field of psychiatry, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, pain medicine or sleep medicine.

After graduating from medical school, aspiring psychiatrists must join a residency program, where they spend much of their first year practicing general medicine before beginning their specialized residency training in psychiatric medicine.

Once they have completed their residencies, psychiatrists must become licensed to practice in the state where they wish to work by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. In order to prescribe medicine to patients, psychiatrists must also acquire a federal narcotics license and register with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Once licensed, psychiatrists can choose to take a voluntary oral and written examination given by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to become a “board certified” psychiatrist.

Some psychiatrists also choose to continue their training by studying at psychoanalytic institutes or performing psychiatric research.