How to Become a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental disorders. Many confuse psychologists with psychiatrists. The main difference is that psychiatrists have a medical degree and can prescribe medication, whereas psychologists have a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) degree. Psychiatrists determine if mental and/or physical disorders are from psychological or physical origins, and psychologists primarily focus on behavioral therapy and mental processes to resolve psychological issues. The other big difference is pay. Psychologists earn a median salary of between $51,000 and $89,523, and psychiatrists usually start out at around $110,000 and ultimately earn a median salary of $177,894. Of course, the schooling and additional residency time means that it takes a lot longer and is a lot more expensive to become a psychiatrist than becoming a psychologist.

In order to become a psychiatrist, you absolutely have to get good grades in both high school and college. Although some get a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, most people who want to become psychiatrists major in pre-medicine and minor in psychology or science. The more respected your college, and the better your grade point average (GPA), the more likely you are to get into medical school after college. It is essential that you take and get A’s in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, human anatomy, and physics in order to be competitive for selection.

At the end of your third year of college, you need to start researching where you would like to attend medical school. Schools overseas can be easier to get accepted into than schools in the United States. Many encourage students to apply to both U.S. medical schools and abroad to increase your chances of getting selected. You should also prepare for and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). A high score on this test is important if you want to be accepted into a reputable school.

The next step is getting into and attending medical school. Not only is medical school expensive, it is very difficult for many people. Unless you are very strong in science, you will struggle in medical school. Most curriculums include courses in histology, human anatomy, pathology, biochemistry, and pharmacology during the first two years. The second two years become more interesting because you study with medical doctors and work in each major medical area in order to gain knowledge in each category such as pediatrics, surgery, OB-GYN, internal medicine, and psychiatry. This also gives students the chance to determine which areas they really enjoy and want to specialize in. Once the specialization area is determined, you have to work on a residency in that field.

In the case of medical students who want to become psychiatrists, they have to complete a four-year residency that consists of one-year of inpatient psychiatry, one-year of outpatient psychiatry, and then you work in each subspecialty in psychiatry such as child psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, etc. Once you complete the residency, you must then pass the appropriate specialty certification exams.

Many think that it is easier to become a psychiatrist than to become a medical doctor in another specialty field, and that simply is not true. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and have to attend all of the same basic classes in medical schools as doctors who work in other areas. The field of psychiatry is rewarding and challenging, and if you are interested in pursuing this field, you should talk to career counselors at your school and try to meet with psychiatrists to determine if it is a field that you would enjoy.


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