What are the Steps to Start a Career in Psychiatry?

Last Updated: June 23, 2024

Psychiatry is a medical profession that focuses on the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness and psychological disorders (cognitive, affective, behavioral and perceptive abnormalities). This medical specialty studies the human mind in an effort to prevent and treat mental disorders.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors that treat a variety of emotional, psychological and mental health care illnesses and disorders. These medical professionals attend medical school and complete supervised internships and residencies (supervised psychiatric practice with diverse populations). They are also required to seek certification and licensure in order to practice.

What are the Educational and Residency Requirements?

In order to practice as a psychiatrist, you must have a medical degree (M.D.) from an accredited medical school. In addition, you must complete a 4-year residency, with three of those years in the area of psychiatry. It normally takes approximately ten to twelve years of post-graduate study to become a licensed, board-certified psychiatrist.

If you are interested in specializing in a specific area of psychiatry, you may be required to complete a fellowship in that specialization, along with an additional two years of post-residency training.

  • Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

Your first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, pre-med or psychology. An undergraduate degree in one of these areas can help build a foundation that will be beneficial when you attend medical school.

While in your undergraduate program, you should take the following classes: sociology, biology, physics, health science, physiology, chemistry, anatomy, advanced mathematics and zoology.

Make sure to coordinate your classes to fit with the requirements needed to enter medical school in the area of psychiatry. During the second semester of your junior year, you may need to take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).

It is important to note that your MCAT scores and GPA will likely determine whether or not you are accepted to the psychiatry medical school program of your choice.

  • Take the Medical College Admission Test & Apply for Medical School

In order to enter medical school, you must successfully pass the MCAT. This standardized exam is offered to prospective medical students. The MCAT is a multiple-choice exam that consists of four different areas: writing, reading, basic medical knowledge and psychiatry knowledge. Making a good score on the MCAT will boost your chances of entering into the medical school of your choice.

  • Attend Medical School

 Once you have taken and passed the MCAT, it is time for you to enroll in medical school. It is important to remember that you may need advanced training in psychiatry in order to practice as a psychiatrist. You should be able to complete medical school within 5 years.

During your first two years of medical school, you take the following science-related courses: pathology, human anatomy, histology, biology, pharmacology and immunology.

During the last two years of medical school you participate in clinical psychiatric rotations (working with physicians and other medical professionals). During your last year or medical school, you need to apply for residency (supervised practice in a psychiatric setting).

  • Earn a Doctor of Medicine

Once you complete medical school, you begin a residency program, in which you provide health services to a variety of patients. Your residency is supervised by licensed physicians. During this time you diagnose and treat patients with mental illnesses and psychological disorders.

  •  Complete Your Residency

Once you have successfully graduated from medical school, it is time to complete your psychiatric residency. During your residency, you work with a diverse population – inpatient, outpatient and in specialty areas.

You can expect to be a resident for approximately 4 years or more. Most of your time is spent performing clinical rotations in the areas of pediatrics and family medicine. Once you have spent an adequate time in those specialties, you move on to neurology and psychiatry.

  •  Considerations

It is especially important to maintain good grades in high school and college because admission to medical school can be very competitive. It is also important to note that medical school and residency are not easy and quite demanding so it is important to be prepared for long hours and dedication to your career choice.

At the same time, medical school can be very rewarding – knowing that you are helping others improve their mental and physical health.

What is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors that treat a variety of mental illnesses and psychological disorders. These professionals diagnose and treat these conditions through a combination of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, medication and in some cases hospitalization. During a psychotherapy session, they discuss the patient’s issues and concerns with him/her and help him/her find practical solutions to his/her problems.

The purpose of psychiatry is to help patients change their thought processes and behaviors through exploration of their experiences. These sessions may take place with a group/family or they may be solely with the individual. Psychoanalysis is considered a long-term psychotherapy that utilizes a variety of analysis techniques.

Psychiatrists are more than likely administer to medications, along with the psychotherapy, to rectify emotional problems caused by chemical imbalances. They may have your own practice or you may work for a hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, clinics, colleges or universities, mental health centers or social services agencies. The majority of time is spent assessing and treating patients. The other time may be spent performing consultation work, teaching or performing research.

What are the Specialties in Psychiatry?

Listed below are some common psychiatric specialties that you may be interested in pursuing:

  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Geriatric Psychiatry
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Addiction Psychiatry
  • Pain Medicine
  • Psychosomatic Medicine
  • Sleep Medicine

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