How To Become A Psychiatrist in 5 Steps


A psychiatrist is a physician who diagnoses, treats, and works to prevent disorders relating to the mind and mental health. This differs from a psychologist, who studies the behaviors of a patient, rather than medically studying the disorder itself. A psychiatrist, unlike a psychologist, is able to prescribe medication.

If you like helping others and are interested in learning more about mental disorders, then the field of psychiatry might be a good fit for you.

5 Steps to Become a Psychiatrist

Acquiring the education and experience necessary to become a psychiatrist is lengthy and can be competitive. Follow these 5 steps to complete your education and become a licensed psychiatrist.

Step 1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Pre-med experience is highly recommended in this part of the process, although the specific degree can vary. Some potential undergraduate degrees that can help you on your road to becomming a psychiatrist include:

  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Health Science
  • Physiology

Whatever degree you choose to study, you need to make sure to keep a GPA close to or even at a 4.0 as much as possible. Admission to medical school is competitive and you need to have excellent grades to stand out among other applicants. In addition, you need a wide range of extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and a well-written application essay or statement.

Step 2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is necessary for admission to medical school. Admission to graduate school can be competitive, so it is recommended students that work to build their application during their undergrad. Along with a strong MCAT score, your GPA in your undergraduate degree is important as well as making sure you have a wide range of extracurricular activities, and well-written personal essay or statement.

Step 3. Go to Medical School

Once admitted into medical school, the first two years include science-heavy courses, followed with two years of rotations. Rotations involve students going into hospitals and clinics to shadow and assist residents in particular specialties.

Step 4. Complete Your Residency Program

After medical school comes residency, which involves working directly under licensed professionals. This process lasts another four years and can give you hands-on experience in all aspects of psychiatry. The decision of where to do your residency is not one that should be taken lightly and ought to be researched carefully.

Step 5. Take The USME Exam And Receive Board Certification

The next step after completing your residency program is to take the US Medical Licensing Examination (USME) and receive board certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. This test is required to become professionally certified as a psychiatrist. For those wishing to subspecialize, a fellowship is required in the specific field.

Advantages of Becoming a Psychiatrist

  • Financial Stability – The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for psychiatrists is currently $194,000. This is much higher than most professions on average.
  • Job Security – Job growth is currently at 18%, according to the Learning Path. This is faster than most professions on average with job prospects especially high in rural and low-income areas. There is also the potential for self-employment.
  • Helping Others – Perhaps, one of the biggest advantages of being a psychiatrist is the ability to help other people. You will be able to help patients suffering from mental health issues related to substance abuse, a traumatic experience, depression, through several different methods, including investigative communication and prescription medication.

Disadvantages of Becoming a Psychiatrist

  • A Psychiatry Degree is Expensive – This education process to become a psychiatrist is expensive; the total cost on average is around $170,000. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has resources to help students with finding Repayment/Forgiveness programs, listing potential questions to ask financial aid officers, and instructions for navigating the financial aid process. Students are encouraged to start their search early.
  • Emotionally TaxingJudith Orloff, assistant clinical professor at UCLA, recommends that students avoid entering the profession solely for the paycheck. As it can be an emotionally taxing job, she insists individuals strive to find joy in the career. This joy can come from knowing the job allows you to help individuals recover from mental illnesses and gain a better understanding of mental disorders.
  • Diagnostic Challenges – One of the biggest challenges psychiatrists face is there are many problems that are difficult to identify and treat due to a lack of fully-certain and standardized methods for how to treat those conditions. There are some proven patient tests that are available to psychiatrists, but there are relatively few available.
  • Burnout – According to USNews, physicians, including psychiatrists, suffer more burnout than other professions. This could have to do with irregular hours, such as nights, weekends, or holidays, as well as overtime. These hours are more likely to occur when working outside of a private practice, where individuals often work in shifts throughout the day and night, picking up where the previous employee has left off.

Finding a Psychiatrist Job

There are a variety of places to find employment as a psychiatrist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this includes private practices, hospitals, outpatient care facilities, research and academia, and government.

Personal connections made during medical school and residency can be helpful in finding a job, especially as many jobs come from private practices. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is also a helpful resource to find jobs as well as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) career search website.

Meanwhile, in terms of employment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the states with the highest employment level for psychiatrists include:

  • California
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts

So Do You Want to Become a Psychiatrist?

If you are ready to start the journey to become a psychiatrist, you first need to find a bachelor’s degree. You can get one from one of the featured colleges listed below or use our handy search tool to find a school that matches your needs and interests.


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