How to Become a Psychiatrist | An Extremely Demanding but Rewarding Career
If you are interested in becoming a psychiatrist, read this guide. I have explained how to become a psychiatrist, the qualifications that you need, and your roles.
If you want to address patients with mental health challenges, then this career is for you. Psychiatrists are special doctors who are equipped with knowledge of addressing the needs of patients with mental illness. They assess, diagnose and treat patients to live well.
Some of their patients include people with drug addiction, stress, eating disorders, depression, panic attacks, phobias, schizophrenia, just to name a few. They will prescribe medication, offer to counsel or recommend ways of living healthy.
Becoming a psychiatrist
Psychiatrists are qualified medical doctors who diagnose and treat all types of mental illness. In order to become one, you need to pass through these 5 steps:
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree
- Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
- Attend medical school
- Complete a psychiatric residency
- Get licensed
It helps to be informed. In order to assess and treat patients with mental illness, you need to study how the brain and nervous system works.
Obtain a bachelor’s degree first and make sure you major in physical science, English and Mathematics. It will also help if you will learn some essential nursing and psychological concepts.
Pursuing a premed program at a college or university is essential to fulfilling the prerequisites of gaining entry into a medical school. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) after you graduate. Prep books I have reviewed here will help you ace MCAT.
MCAT test is a requirement of joining a medical school. The next step is attending a medical school from an accredited medical school. It is a 4-year degree where students will receive classroom education plus interact with mentally challenged patients.
Once you graduate from a medical school, you will be required to be a resident. The ultimate goal of this program is to help you gain clinical experience with patients.
The last step is to get a license to work as a qualified psychiatrist. In order to be licensed, you must pass the U.S Medical Licensing Examination for M.D.s OR THE Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination for D.O.s.
Why Choose Psychiatry
This is an attractive and exciting career especially to people who love to work with mentally challenged patients. It will provide you with a perfect opportunity to change their lives.
You will be a specialist doctor who is an expert in mental health. Patients that you will be taking care of include:
- People dealing with violence, abuse, neglect, and trauma
- Patients who are stressed, have depression and panic attacks
- Those who have suicide thoughts
- Persons struggling with alcohol and drug issues
- Patients dealing with mood swings or feeling out of control
- Patients with hallucinations that frightens
- People with gambling problems, money issues, can’t keep a job, relationship or marriage
- People hearing unwanted voices
- People who have no control of their appetite or not eating enough
- People with sleep problems
- It’s a big privilege for people to trust you with their most personal problems. As a qualified doctor, you will draw on your medical skills to solve their problems so their lives can be improved.
Learning Human Behavior
Psychiatry changes you for the better because you will learn about human behavior. You can heal people by just listening to their problems. So many people need psychiatrist services and you can help change their lives.
A broad range of treatments
As a psychiatrist, you will have an opportunity to use various treatments to improve your patients’ lives which include the following:
- Checking physical health
- Giving medication
- Giving counseling or psychological treatment such as talking therapy
- Brain stimulation therapy
A bachelor’s degree
To work as a psychiatrist, you will need psychiatrist schooling. The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree with Biology, English, Physics, Chemistry and Math classes as main subjects.
This will be your pre-med preparation. It is extremely important that you check with your medical school first about specific pre-med requirements and recommendations.
No specific degree is required to become a psychiatrist though many students study psychology.
Other undergraduate majors for aspiring psychiatrists include:
- Bachelor of Science in Biology
- Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
Students are expected to do well in life sciences plus math classes. This is a 4-year degree with laboratory classes too. If you want to improve your chances for acceptance in a medical school, volunteer in a hospital and work with patients who have a mental illness.
Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
You will need to take an MCAT test before applying to medical school. This is a multi-choice examination to test your knowledge of social science and behavioral concepts.
It is important to note that the average score for accepted students who want to study psychiatry is 511. The duration of the test is 7.5 hours and contains 4 sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning skills
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of living systems
- Psychological, social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
Attend medical school
Enroll in a medical school to earn a doctor’s degree after passing your MCAT test. It takes 4 years to complete and includes classes in:
The first years will focus on class education while the second half of the degree program will focus on working with patients and other healthcare professionals. In other words, students will receive classroom psychiatry education plus hands-on training in laboratory and clinical settings.
The degree you can study include Doctor of Medicine (M.D) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O).
Complete a psychiatric residency
You need to complete a residency to be a qualified psychiatrist. You will work with health professionals who will supervise your work. The goal of a residency program is to hone your skills to work unsupervised in a hospital, substance abuse treatment program or private practice.
The program usually takes 4 years to complete. You might be wondering if you will get any type of compensation or not. Yes, you will get a salary. More things to learn in your residency include:
- Interviewing and diagnostic techniques
- Treat different types of mental illness
- Work with children and adults
- How to respond to a psychiatry emergency situation
- Learn suicidal behavior, just to name a few
This is the last step to complete before becoming a psychiatrist. All states need psychiatrists to become licensed before practicing his or her profession. To be licensed, you will need to take the final exam; U.S Medical Licensing Examination for M.D.s or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of D.O.s.
Working as a Psychiatrist
As a psychiatrist, you will specialize in mental health, including substance use disorders. You will assess and treat patients with emotional, behavioral and mental diseases and conditions.
A psychiatrist can work in private practice, public hospitals, and nursing homes. The job description of a psychiatrist include the following:
- Assess and screen patients
- Analyze data of their patients in order to give the best treatment
- Offer counseling
- Develop a treatment plan
- Coordinate and communicate with case managers
- Provide crisis intervention when needed
- Monitor patients to determine the effectiveness of their treatment plan
- Work with other health professionals to adjust treatment plans
Psychiatrists are qualified doctors who perform different types of laboratory and psychological tests to determine the mental state of their patients. As a patient, you may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to determine your symptoms, thoughts or even behavior patterns.
The main classes of mental illnesses patients are diagnosed with are bipolar, anxiety disorders, somatic symptom and related disorders, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, dissociative disorders, personality disorders, addictive disorders, gender dysphoria, sexual dysfunctions, elimination disorders, paraphilic disorders and many more.
It is worth noting that treatment will depend on the type of mental illness your patient will have and its severity.
You will give medication to improve symptoms. A patient with depression will require antidepressants, a patient with anxiety will require anti-anxiety medications and so on.
Other types of treatments include counseling and even brain stimulation treatments.
How long does it take to become a psychiatrist?
It takes about 12 years to become a psychiatrist. 4 years in pre-med school, another 4 years in medical school and 4 or fewer years in residency.
Psychiatry Career Trends
Demand for psychiatrists has risen sharply in recent years. More and more cases of suicides, anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and mass shootings have been reported in recent months.
Here are trends to watch in Psychiatry careers
Increasing demand for Psychiatrist
There are so many cases of patients with mental illness yet only a small percentage of them have received health treatment for their illness or conditions. This had led to an increasing demand for psychiatrists.
Modern Technology and Mental Health Apps
Modern technology has improved which enables doctors to analyze individual DNA to determine the genes that cause mental illness. A psychiatrist can use this information to identify abnormalities and treat them.
Fast, easy and effective diagnosis can be achieved with a modern technology that analyzes hormonal signals and genes that cause abnormalities.
Mental health apps have been developed to address the problems of mental health patients. Some apps offer interventions while others recommend hospitals and psychiatrists near them.
Some patients may not be required to leave their home in order to access care. They can access a psychiatrist online and get help. This brings help especially to people living in rural communities.
Shorter Appointment Times
Psychiatry trend nowadays is that appointments times are getting shorter. This is because of the many patients diagnosed with mental conditions and fewer doctors working in hospitals or private establishments.
Related Occupations: What You Need to Know
If you are looking to make a difference in mental health, here are careers you can consider:
- Vocational Counselor
- Psychiatric Nurses
- Addiction counselor and many more
All these are medical professionals who have the necessary knowledge to diagnose mental illness and determine the appropriate treatment. They can also help mentally ill patients make better decisions that will improve their lives. All of them have degrees in a variety of disciplines.