How to Become a Psychiatrist

Three Methods:Meeting the Educational RequirementsStudying PsychiatryBecoming a Licensed Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are licensed physicians who specialize in treating mental illnesses by prescribing medication and using techniques like psychotherapy. With its interesting breadth of research and multiple fields of study, psychiatry attracts many keen medical students. If you're considering this career path, here is a guide on how to become a psychiatrist in the United States.

Method 1
Meeting the Educational Requirements

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    Obtain a bachelor of science degree. The road from high school graduate to licensed psychiatrist is a long one, and it starts with a bachelor's degree. Many people who are interested in psychiatry choose to major in psychology, chemistry, biology, or engineering in order to start learning about the way the mind works. The important thing is to obtain a degree from a 4-year university that will prepare you to apply to medical school.
    • You must have 1 year of inorganic chemistry, 1 year of organic chemistry, 1 year of biology, 1 year of mathematics including calculus, and 1 year of physics in order to apply for medical school.
    • Grades must be outstanding in order to secure admission. For every one person admitted to medical school, 7 will be rejected. [citation needed]
    • Some universities offer pre-med programs that are designed to fulfill all of the prerequisites for applying to medical school.
    • Going to the best school you can get into is a good idea when your end goal is becoming a psychiatrist. Medical schools are very competitive, so make sure you attend a top school and get the best grades you can get.
    • While you're in college, get experience in the psychiatric field by taking an internship at a hospital or doing volunteer work. Make sure psychiatry is definitely for you before you spend the time and money it takes to become licensed.
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    Get your Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) or Doctor of Medicine (MD) medical degree. Psychiatrists must go through the same medical training program that all doctors go through. In addition to learning about the mind, you'll be learning about how the body works and how to treat all types of illnesses. Medical school will give you the fundamental knowledge you need to be a responsible and excellent doctor. You will have to pass internal medicine, surgery, neurology, obstetrics, emergency medicine, family practice, and pediatrics.
    • Do well on the MCAT and apply to the best school you can get into. You'll have a greater range of career choices if you go to a great medical school.
    • During the first four years of medical school you take classes, do lab work, and learn about medical ethics. You may not have the opportunity to do hands-on psychiatry work at this stage, but earning your medical degree is a requirement in the path to becoming a psychiatrist, so stick with it.

Method 2
Studying Psychiatry

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    Decide which sub-specialty you want to go into.[1] You could focus on psychiatric research, a certain therapeutic approach, or a specific set of illnesses. Do research on the different sub-specialties and figure out what you want to pursue during your residency. Consider the following options:
    • Addiction psychiatry, which involves treating patients who are dealing with addiction (such as substance abuse, gambling, food, and sex addictions).
    • Child and adolescent psychiatry.
    • Geriatric psychiatry.
    • Emergency psychiatry, which involves dealing with emergency situations that may endanger a person's life (for example, suicide attempts, violent changes in behavior, self-harm, psychosis).
    • Forensic psychiatry, which is psychiatry within the field of criminology, often dealing with the use of the insanity defense in a trial.
    • Neuropsychiatry, which is psychiatry connected to diseases of the nervous system.
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    Complete your residency. After you have your DO or MD, you'll spend the next four years getting hands-on experience with patients under the supervision of licensed doctors. The first year of residency will include several months in internal medicine and neurology. You'll put into practice all that you learned in the classroom while you pursued your medical degree. Your residency will be set up through your school and completed at a hospital or clinic.[2]
    • Your residency will include general medicine rotations, neurology, psychiatry and electives geared toward the specialized fields of psychiatry that interests you. You'll work in both outpatient and inpatient psychology.
    • Many students of psychiatry complete their residency working in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. You will work with patients to treat problems like clinical depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and sleep disorders.

Method 3
Becoming a Licensed Psychiatrist

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    Get licensed by the state where you will practice. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) requires that psychiatrists pass state exams in order to become licensed. Fulfill your state's licensing requirements by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Each state has slightly different examination requirements having to do with specific state laws.
    • If you move states, you may have to sit for another examination to practice psychiatry there.[3]
    • In order to prescribe medication, you must also get a federal narcotics license and register with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).[4]
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    Become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) or the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry (AOBNP). This is not a requirement, but it improves your chances of getting a job as a psychiatrist. The ABPN offers certificates in general psychiatry and specialized fields like teenage psychiatry. Earn the certificates that apply to the field of psychiatry you wish to pursue.
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    Work as a psychiatrist. After you've been licensed, you have several choices when it comes to employment. You may apply for a job at a hospital, work at a psychiatric clinic, or open your own private practice. Figure out which work situation is the best fit for you, then fill out applications or take steps toward opening an office and receiving patients.
    • Working an a hospital or clinic setting provides stability and structure, but the hours can be long, just as they are for any doctor.
    • Opening a private practice is lucrative, but it may be tough to get patients when you're first starting out.[5]


  • Having good analytical thinking skills, patience, and listening skills will greatly help you succeed as a psychiatrist.
  • Remember that you are still practicing medicine, so you must follow the Hippocratic Oath. This includes observing the doctor-patient confidentiality rule.
  • You'll be spending at least 12 years in post-secondary education and training to become a psychiatrist (and pretty much any doctor). If you're not able to commit to that amount of school, consider another career field. Not everyone who wants to become a psychiatrist can be one.
  • One of the most prestigious schools offering psychiatry studies in the United States is Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

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