Why You Should Get a Psychiatry Degree

If you’re interested in helping people overcome their mental health issues, then you might want to consider studying a psychiatry degree.

Psychiatry is the area of medicine involving the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, which may include:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating or food disorders
  • Addictions
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Developmental disabilities
Those who earn their medical degree in psychiatry and their license in their state go on to become a psychiatrist, who use a combination of medications, counseling or therapy, and diagnostic tests to help patients overcome their mental health issues. Psychiatrists also work with doctors, psychotherapists and social workers to determine the best care needed.

Many people think that a psychiatrist is the same thing as a psychologist since both help people with their personal and mental health problems. However, a psychiatrist is an actual doctor—-one who can prescribe medications and conduct psychotherapy on patients.

What You’ll Learn With a Psychiatry Degree

With a degree in psychiatry, you’ll be able to:
  • Diagnose mental illnesses in patients
  • Conduct examinations in patients to understand their behavioral patterns and analyze their past experiences
  • Understand the complexities of the mind and what drives certain behaviors
  • Listen to patients talk about their problems and help them develop solutions
  • Prescribe medications to patients to improve their chemical imbalances, such as antidepressants, hypnotics, stimulants, and sedatives
  • Determine the best treatment for patients, ranging from medication to deep brain stimulation to therapy

Benefits of Studying Psychiatry

Why should you pursue a degree in psychiatry? It can provide several advantages to your career when you graduate, including:
  • Excellent salary: Psychiatrists earn an average annual salary of $200,000 a year as of May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Rewarding career: You’ll help patients overcome or control their mental health issues so they can enjoy a higher quality of life.
  • Work with all kinds of people: You’ll get the privilege of working with patients in a wide range of ages as well as from different cultural and economic backgrounds.
  • Work in a variety of settings: You’ll have the flexibility in applying for jobs in many different environments, including hospitals, clinics, universities, and the military, among others.
  • Private practice: Many psychiatrists open their own private practice once they earn their board certification, which enables them to set their own hours and have a greater work-life balance.

The 5 Steps You Need to Take in Your Psychiatry Education

To become a psychiatrist, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree, medical degree, and complete a residency program as part of your clinical training. If you want to have a subspecialty, you’ll have to get a fellowship. Each of these degrees enables you to find a job and practice psychiatry to some degree, though those who obtain board certification after medical school and residency are actually able to fully practice psychiatry.

Step 1: Start with a Bachelor’s Degree

Though schools don’t offer a bachelor’s degree in psychiatry, earning a degree in a physical or social science, such as psychology, chemistry, biology, or pre-med would offer you the best preparation for medical school. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, for example, can help you build a solid foundation in understanding the human mind, social development, different behaviors, counseling strategies, and how the brain evolves by age.

The types of classes you take may vary depending on what you get your bachelor’s degree in. For example, a bachelor’s degree in psychology might include classes like:
  • Life science
  • Statistics
  • Ethics
  • Personality psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
Along with going to school, it’s also helpful to volunteer at a hospital or clinic to gain hands-on experience in preparation for medical school.Some career fields you can find work in with a bachelor’s in psychology include:
  • Human resources specialist
  • Case manager
  • Rehabilitation specialist
  • Occupational therapist assistant or aide
  • Sales representative
  • Market researcher
  • Childcare worker
  • Career counselor
  • Social service specialist

Step 2: Get Your Medical Degree

The next step is to go to medical school. Common criteria required for applying to medical school are:
  • A high GPA (specific minimum GPA requirements may vary by school)
  • Excellent letters of recommendation
  • A well-written personal statement
  • A curriculum vitae
It’s important to note that a low GPA and/or MCAT score can affect your chances of getting into medical school. To remain competitive, be sure to retake the MCAT to try to get a higher score.

The first two years of medical school will mainly focus on academic work, where you’ll take classes, such as:
  • Pathology
  • Human anatomy
  • Histology
  • Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Immunology
  • Neuroscience
  • Behavioral science
During the second two years of medical school, you’ll do clinical rotations in a hospital or outpatient clinic, where you’ll help doctors and other medical professionals take care of patients with mental health issues. Clinical rotations could include areas, like:
  • Psychiatry (inpatient, outpatient)
  • Children and adolescents
  • Neurology
  • Substance abuse
  • Primary care
  • Internal medicine
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Emergency psychiatry
Once you complete medical school, you must take a written examination for a state license to practice medicine. After that, residency is the next step.

Step 3: Pursue a Residency Program

A residency program, which takes at least three years, provides you with on-the-job training to prepare you for the rest of your career. Under the direction a licensed psychiatrist, you’ll get the opportunity to provide mental health care on patients from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds with a variety of psychiatric disorders. You’ll also learn about different treatment options, like psychotherapy, medication, electroconvulsive therapy, and deep brain stimulation.

After residency is complete, you can take a voluntary written and oral examination through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to become a board-certified psychologist.

Step 4: Specialize with a Fellowship

If you want to specialize in a particular subspecialty, you must complete a fellowship. Some sub specialties include:
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Psychosomatic medicine
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Administrative psychology
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Mental retardation psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Sleep medicine
  • Pain medicine

Step 5: Continuing Education

To remain a board-certified psychiatrist, you’ll be required to recertify every 10 years. You do this by completing continuing education coursework, such as by attending workshops, seminars, classes, and self-assessment activities by approved institutions.

Where You Can Work as a Psychiatrist

Once you become a licensed psychiatrist, you’ll be prepared to work in a variety of settings, such as:
  • Private practice
  • General and psychiatric hospitals
  • University medical centers
  • Community agencies
  • Nursing homes
  • Government
  • Rehabilitation programs
  • Military
  • Courts and prisons
  • Emergency rooms
  • Hospices
Of the roughly 42,000 psychiatrists in the U.S., about half of them choose to open a private practice, which lets them set their own schedules.

Should You Study Psychiatry?

As you can see, becoming a psychiatrist is a long commitment. Not only is it competitive to get into medical school, but also takes several years of schooling, from a bachelor’s degree through residency training. You’ll also have to get recertified every 10 years.

But, if you’re passionate about treating patients to help them control their mental health, behavioral, and emotional issues, a degree in psychiatry is worth it. Considering the excellent salary and the variety of patients and mental health issues you’ll get to work with, it can be an exciting and rewarding career.


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