Wondering how to become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree? If so, the bad news is a psychology degree won’t be sufficient. Psychiatrists are medical professionals who need a doctorate from an accredited medical school. Psychiatrists have prescribing power to treat serious mental illnesses with both psychotherapy and oral drugs or injections. Psychiatrists need more advanced training than psychologists to prepare in-depth patient interventions. Psychiatrists follow a step-by-step route through college and medical school to reach their occupation.
Becoming a psychiatrist generally takes eight to 11 years beyond a bachelor’s degree. In comparison, psychologists could practice after as little as five years of graduate studies. Psychiatrists have a deeper understanding of how the body and brain influence mental health. General practitioners usually refer patients with mental illness symptoms to psychiatrists. Psychiatrists and psychologists sometimes work together to provide a patient with well-rounded care. After all, clinicians with only a psychology degree can’t provide both medical and psychological care though. Here’s a closer look at how students can become board-certified psychiatrists.
What Psychiatrists are Trained to Do
Psychiatrists are mental health physicians who treat conditions that affect how patients feel, think, behave, and interact with others. They’re trained to diagnose wide-ranging mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, addiction, bulimia, anxiety, and depression. Psychiatrists interview patients about their symptoms to narrow down the vast number of potential diagnoses. Then, psychiatrists develop custom treatment plans to treat the condition holistically and with medicine. The following are common duties expected of psychiatrists.
- Conduct physical exams and psychological testing
- Collect patient information on behaviors and mental state
- Collaborate with doctors, psychologists, and case managers
- Counsel patients on an inpatient or outpatient basis
- Choose suitable, FDA-approved drug treatment options
- Carry out psychotherapy sessions from varied approaches
- Consult with patients’ families for couple or group therapy
- Continually change treatment plans to boost patient progress
- Complete administrative tasks like record keeping and billing
- Conduct medical research to advance the psychiatry field
However, psychiatrists don’t all work in the same capacity. Similar to psychology, psychiatry has different specializations to pick. Child and adolescent psychiatry focuses on treating young people under age 21 with early signs of mental illness. Forensic psychiatry is concerned with assessing the mental competency of criminal offenders for courtroom proceedings. Geriatric psychiatry assists older patients who experience abnormal aspects of aging from acute or chronic illness. Sleep psychiatry centers on treating disorders that interrupt patients’ abilities to rest comfortably, including insomnia and hypersomnia. Addiction psychiatry only deals with patients who abuse substances and have co-morbid mental disorders.
Who Should Consider Becoming a Psychiatrist
Anyone asking how to become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree can qualify with hard work and determination. Psychiatrists need persistence to get through 12+ years of post-secondary training in total. Psychiatrists keep using their patience and endurance to guide reluctant patients through their feelings. Psychiatrists must be skilled communicators capable of talking issues out with diverse patients. Listening skills are included to truly hear patients’ stories and concerns. Writing skills ensure psychiatrists keep detailed records of each patient session.
Psychiatrists are diagnostic problem-solvers with strong analytical skills to determine which mental illnesses patients have. Psychiatrists must be detail-oriented to review DSM-5 diagnosis criteria clearly and prescribe the right drugs. Leadership skills help psychiatrists manage staff like receptionists and psychiatric technicians in their private practices. Creativity is important for psychiatrists to prod pent-up memories and emotions out of patients. Psychiatrists need observational skills to watch patients’ body language and read between the lines.
Above all, future psychiatrists must be extremely empathetic and friendly. Psychiatrists need to treat mentally ill patients with compassion rather than judgment or shame. Psychiatrists must have the emotional strength to address sensitive topics with kindness and understanding. Ethics are imperative for psychiatrists to keep patient sessions 100 percent confidential. Crisis intervention skills are needed to deescalate tense or even violent situations safely. Psychiatrists must be calm and even-tempered to maintain composure when controlling patient outbursts.
Great Reasons to Become a Psychiatrist
For 2020, the U.S. News & World Report ranked psychiatry the 34th best job nationwide. Highly rated 6.8/10, psychiatrists have America’s 18th best health care career. Psychiatrists enjoy the intrinsic rewards of helping countless patients overcome serious mental illnesses. Psychiatrists prescribe much-needed treatments to relieve the distressing symptoms of emotional and behavioral disorders.
Psychiatrists are magical mood boosters who talk patients through difficulties for inner peace and life prosperity. In return, psychiatrists have the sixth-highest paying job with a median annual wage of $208,000. Most psychiatrists make between $75,590 and $253,370 each year. To compare, psychologists have average earnings of $87,450. Psychiatrists enjoy a profession that challenges their minds and feeds their finances.
How to become a psychiatrist involves planning out one’s schooling and on-the-job training. Are the several years in higher education worth it? The Bureau of Labor Statistics says yes. From 2018 to 2028, the hiring of psychiatrists will skyrocket by 16 percent. Much faster-than-average job growth in psychiatry will add 4,500 new U.S. jobs. As positions for psychiatrists multiply to 33,200 in total, there will be a shortage.
The National Council for Behavioral Health predicts America will be short 15,600 psychiatrists by 2025. Medical school recruits are direly needed to help the one in five U.S. residents with mental illness. New psychiatrists are especially in-demand in low-income, rural areas. Psychiatrists also benefit from the ability to establish their private practices. Nearly one-fourth of psychiatrists are self-employed as their own bosses.
The First Steps to Becoming a Psychiatrist
Every psychiatrist’s journey begins with college admission for a bachelor’s degree. Getting an associate degree for a community college’s cheaper 2+2 transfer pathway also works. Either route is open to high school graduates and GED recipients. Budding psychiatrists enjoy the most leeway when choosing their major and class schedules. Medical schools don’t require a specific curriculum. Popularly, students follow how to become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree. Psychiatrists also often study the biological, mathematical, and physical sciences.
Accredited bachelor’s degrees from A-Z or anthropology to zoology would count. For the first two years, undergrads take a variety of general education courses like literature and statistics. Afterward, bachelor’s students take major-related classes geared toward their professional goals. Double-check that all medical school prerequisites are fulfilled. Taking at least one year of fundamental biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics courses is essential. Let’s survey a few other suggested undergraduate courses for aspiring psychiatrists.
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Lifespan Development
- Abnormal Psychology
- Research Methods/Design
- Personality Psychology
- Sensation and Perception
- Psychometric Testing
- Cognitive Psychology
Upperclassmen should supplement courses with hands-on, applied learning. Experience working in the mental health field makes med school applicants more likely to succeed. Apply for psychology-related internships with supervised patient care. Participate or lead psychology laboratory projects to apply learned experimental methods. Volunteer with charitable nonprofits like Project Hope, the Red Cross, RAINN, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Consider purchasing student tickets to the American Psychological Association’s Convention too.
Early in their senior year, future psychiatrists must take the Medical College Admission Test. How to become a psychiatrist requires passing the MCAT with flying colors. Med schools look for solid GPAs, high MCAT scores, good interview marks, and an impressive resume. The MCAT is currently a 230-question, computer-based exam that costs $310. The seven-hour test can be taken up to seven times in total. In 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported an average accepted MCAT score of 128.
What Medical School Entails for Aspiring Psychiatrists
Once admitted, medical school traditionally takes four to five years. Future psychiatrists can select a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). The latter option prioritizes a holistic, whole-person approach. Medical school cohorts begin with two years of class seminars and lab practice. Expect courses like Disease Pathology, Pharmacology, and Neuroanatomy. During the third year, M.D. and D.O. students start clinical rotations called clerkships. Every student gets generalist medical training with practice in various specialties.
Which medical schools are the best for psychiatrists? According to CNBC, the top med schools include Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Columbia, and the Mayo Clinic. Yale, Pittsburgh, Duke, Cornell, and Northwestern are also top-notch psychiatry schools. Carefully choose a medical school with a strong psychiatry specialty program. It’s best to select schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) or American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Consider other factors like price, location, class size, selectivity, academic rigor, and support services. Always contact the admissions office for a campus tour before enrolling.
The AAMC reported an average 2019-20 public medical school tuition rate of $37,556 in-state and $62,194 out-of-state. Private medical schools charge $60,665 per year on average. Becoming a psychiatrist doesn’t have to leave students debt-ridden though. Medical schools offer financial aid programs like scholarships and grants. Professional organizations present funding like the Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship and Physicians of Tomorrow Award. Armed Forces service members qualify for the full-tuition Health Professions Scholarship Program. Psychiatrists take advantage of loan forgiveness opportunities as well.
Medical school graduation isn’t the end of the how to become a psychiatrist path though. The next step is completing one’s residency. Residencies are when medical doctors specialize in the psychiatry trade. Residents can be matched to inpatient or outpatient psychiatric hospitals and clinics. Post-graduate residencies in psychiatry last at least four years. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is a great place to find residency matches. Residencies are available in diverse sub-fields, such as geriatric, forensic, child, and addiction.
How to Earn Licensing and Certification as a Psychiatrist
Before calling oneself a doctor, psychiatrists must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. This three-step process certifies a psychiatrist’s knowledge and skills for patient mental health care. Graduates of any LCME- or AOA-accredited medical school can apply for $645 per step. New doctors begin with a computer-based exam of seven 60-minute blocks and 280 questions. Second, psychiatrists undergo a clinical skills evaluation to prove health promotion abilities. The third licensing step involves a two-day USLME test that splits 412 multiple-choice questions. If any step is failed, individuals can apply for three retakes in a 12-month time frame.
Besides standard licensure, there are several national board certifications offered for psychiatrists. Board certification isn’t mandatory, yet it’s highly recommended for professional credibility. For instance, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) has a $1,345 initial certification exam to prove specialty skills. The American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) has offered psychiatry credentials since 1960 with 200 test questions. The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) offers an added qualification for forensic psychiatrists. Investigate which certifications nearby hospitals or private practices require for hiring.
Start the Education Process to Practice Psychiatry
Overall, getting a job as a licensed and certified psychiatrist rarely happens before one’s 30th birthday. Intensive psychiatry training lasts at least 12 years beyond high school. Medical school can’t be skipped, so how to become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree alone isn’t possible. Build atop a psychology degree with medical courses, clinical rotations, and a residency. Certification for psychiatrists doesn’t end because renewals are required every decade. Psychiatrists earn good job security at psychiatric hospitals, drug rehabs, mental health clinics, universities, and private practices.
Uninterested in going through these rigorous training steps? Perhaps consider a career in counseling or psychology instead. Therapists and psychologists still work with clients who suffer from mental disorders. Psychiatric aides can assist mentally ill patients with only an associate’s degree or certificate. Whichever mental health career is chosen, the need is great. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that 26 percent of U.S. adults meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. Nearly 10 percent of Americans have a depressive disorder. Determine which career avenue suits one’s aspirations. Following the long process of how to become a psychiatrist is just one option.
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