Guide to Becoming a Psychiatrist
HowToBecomeAPsychiatrist.org is a site dedicated to providing useful resources on psychiatry degrees and careers. Psychiatry is the study of the mind and how to treat mental disorders. Psychiatrists differ from psychologists in that they’re qualified to give treatment in conjunction with a prescription. Psychologists are not able to write prescriptions for patients they are treating.
Psychiatrists must obtain a license in their state in order to practice. Psychiatry is a rewarding career where you’re treating patients for ailments they may have been suffering from for a very long time. The mental health field is growing as people realize that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing. Psychiatry is also making major breakthroughs as technology allows scientists to better study the brain than ever before.
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How Do I Become a Psychiatrist?
There are many steps toward becoming a psychiatrist. It is imperative you understand what a commitment it is to have a career in psychiatry. You will be in school for a number of years (usually around seven-eight years) before being able to practice as a psychiatrist. There are portions of your study that will require full time academic commitments such as a residency. During your residency, it is impossible for you to work while attending classes and completing clinicals. It’s important you realistically look at your schedule and lifestyle before committing to a psychiatry program.
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree. This degree may be in biology, neurology, psychiatry, or even psychology. This gives you a basic understanding of what you’ll being doing as you continue on your journey to become a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists at this stage are learning if they want to explore this field more in-depth. It is important you pursue a bachelor’s of science degree because this is what’s required to enter medical school. You cannot have a bachelor’s degree in the arts such as writing or languages.
- Some schools offer specific pre-med programs meant to prep you for medical school. If you know you want to become a psychiatrist at this stage, a sit down meeting with a career counselor or academic advisor is the best route. This is especially true if you plan on applying to med school at the same school. You should also gain hours working in a hospital or doctor’s office setting by volunteering. Sometimes you are able to set this up through school, as many medical programs work exclusively with doctors and hospitals in the area where alumni work. Other times, you will be required to find an internship-type program on your own. Most hospitals have volunteer programs, but depending on where you live, it may be full. Start calling and visiting hospitals early. Alternatively, you can volunteer at a nursing home or clinic to get medical field experience while still completing your bachelor’s degree.
- Get a medical degree. This portion of becoming a psychiatrist is the most grueling. Medical school is very tedious for some and you may not get hands-on experience during the first year. Don’t fret. For about four years you’ll attend medical school for a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. You’ll explore anatomy, pathology, and physiology. Medical school is a mix of lectures and hands-on work in a lab. You will also learn about medical laws, pharmacology, psychology, and proper medical professional ethics. All of these components are integral for a psychiatrist. It is a major responsibility treating someone for mental illnesses. Every portion of this should be studied carefully. Medical school is where you learn the fundamental skills of being a doctor and psychiatrist before entering your residency.
- Go through residency. Your residency is set up through your school and is completed at a hospital or clinic. For psychiatrists, you will most likely work on the psych floor of a hospital or in a facility that services mentally ill patients. This is the first time you will work directly with patients and under the supervision of licensed doctors. You will learn how to apply the skills you’ve learned throughout medical school. It will be a mix of forensic psychology, neurology, and chemical dependency when assessing and treating patients. You will work with patients that suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, and other developmental disabilities. While you may not go on to work with patients with all of these issues, it is important to gain experience treating every type of psychiatric problem you may come across in the course of your career.
Residency will be broken into a few parts and will span four years. The first portion of residency for psychiatrists and any medical professional is typically four months of general medicine rotations. This will include family practice, pediatrics, or family medicine (or all three). An additional two months is spent working in neurology. The rest of residency is psychiatry and electives. One year will most likely be inpatient psychiatry, the following year will work with outpatient psychiatry, and any remaining months can be used for students to complete rotations in specialized fields of study. There are many specialized areas of psychiatry including geriatric psychiatry, child psychiatry, teen psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry.
- Get your psychiatry license. In every state, you must have a psychiatry license in order to practice and treat patients. Each state has its own requirements in order to sit for the state board exam. You want to attend school and complete residency in the same state you plan on practicing in. If you move states, you will have to sit for another exam to become licensed in that state. This test focuses on the state regulations and proper medical practices for that individual state. As a psychiatrist you are able to write medical prescriptions for patients, and this often means registering with the state to do this.
- Become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). This is optional, but it is highly suggested as it can improve your chances of employment. The ABPN offers general psychiatry certificates, in addition to those that specialize with teenagers or addiction. Check their website for the various specific certificates offered for psychiatrists. You are certified for 10 years. After that, you must be certified again through continuing education courses and self-assessment. This is common for many certified and licensed medical professions.
Where Can I Work as a Psychiatrist?
Many psychiatrists work within a private practice or own their own practice. With this, you set your own hours, are responsible for treating your own clients, and must be available to them via phone and email. Some psychiatrists have offices they rent to conduct patient treatment, while others have a room in their home where they see patients regularly. This depends on your experience and how comfortable you are treating patients. Psychiatrists typically grow into these self-employed positions later down the line after they have a roster of clients they see regularly.
Psychiatrists can also work in hospitals or clinics, assessing and treating patients. For hospital jobs, psychiatrists may work very long shifts a few days out of the week. This is the norm for any medical professional. Working in a clinic may not pay as much, but it will give you exposure to working with patients who are in serious need of your help and may not have access to treatment otherwise. It is very important that a psychiatrist is comfortable treating people from any social or economic background. People of all ages, races, and social statuses suffer from mental illnesses.