How To Become A Psychiatrist

How To Become A Psychiatrist

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“Psychiatrists deal with ‘insane’ or ‘deranged’ individuals.” You probably know someone who thinks this way.

Truth is; this is a big misconception. Most psychiatric patients have temporary conditions and can recover with appropriate treatment plans.

In this article, we are going to talk about what a psychiatrist really does and how you can become one.

We’ll also tap into a psychiatrist’s potential salary as well as the job outlook, have a closer look into what a day in the life of a psychiatrist looks like, and more.

Without further delay, let’s get into it!

What Is A Psychiatrist?

What is a psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose and treat mental illnesses including schizophrenia, ADHD, depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, and eating disorders. 

They have a deep understanding of how the mental and physical aspects of these conditions interact with each other and are therefore qualified to provide treatment.

Psychiatrists perform lab and psychological tests to look closer into a patient’s mental and physical state.

Upon doing these, they check the patient’s genetics, family history, and emotions, and work with patients to develop appropriate treatment plans.

There’s a variety of treatment options psychiatrists use which ranges from medications, psychotherapy, psycho-social interventions, and more serious treatments such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).

This profession is often confused with psychologists and neurologists and that’s what we’re going to talk about next.

Psychiatrist VS Psychologist

Are you still in college and choosing between a career in psychiatry or psychology?

If so, you need to clearly assess whether you want to treat mental illnesses and prescribe medications, or to administer talk therapy (psychotherapy) and conduct research. 

Mainly, the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that the former can prescribe medications whereas the latter cannot.

In terms of education, a psychiatrist has a degree in medicine whereas a psychologist has a degree in psychology.

Psychiatrist VS Neurologist

Essentially, both psychiatrists and neurologists deal with problems of the brain. However, a neurologist works mainly to treat organic or structural disorders such as brain cancers or epilepsy. 

A psychiatrist, on the other hand, diagnoses and attempts treatment for the psychiatric symptoms that are caused by these disorders through psychology, psychotherapy, and medication.

How Do You Become A Psychiatrist?

How Do You Become A Psychiatrist

To become a psychiatrist, you need to dedicate 12 years of education after high-school and be willing to put in the effort as well as finances necessary to complete the training. Following the typical timeline, you can become a psychiatrist at the age of 30. 

1. College (4 years)

You won’t need a specific bachelor’s degree to get into med school, but most will require you to take courses in biology, physics, math, and chemistry. 

Since medical school is very competitive, you should also work your way to get a high GPA and to get hands-on experience as a volunteer in a clinic or a hospital

But before you can join med school, you first need to take and pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Medical schools will likely consider your MCAT score before admission, so be sure to prepare for it and slay the test.😃

2. Med School (4 years)

To become a psychiatrist, you can either earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.

While both focus on teaching the same treatment methods, a DO degree will also tap on osteopathic manipulative medicine. 

The first two years in med school will be spent doing lectures and labs where you’ll be taught biology, anatomy, pathology, physiology, psychology, ethics, and medical laws. By the end of the second year, you should be taking USMLE Step 1.

The last two years will be focused on doing clinical rotations where you’ll work alongside doctors and other health-care professionals to essentially hone your skills. You might also involve yourself in some research work. Then, by the final year, you’ll be taking USMLE Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS.

3. Residency (~4 years)

A psychiatric residency usually takes four years to complete where you’ll undergo supervised training in a hospital or clinical setting.

It’s probably the most exciting stage in your training so far because, at this time, you’ll get to start treating patients suffering from anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental problems. 

During this time, you’ll receive training in several disciplines (neurology, chemical dependency, etc.) and then focus on your electives and clinical experience in the final year.

4. Sub-specialties

If you want to specialize in a specific psychiatric condition, you can choose to spend another year of training in any of the following:

    • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
    • Addiction Psychiatry
    • Geriatric Psychiatry
    • Neuropsychiatry
    • Schizophrenia
    • Substance Abuse
    • Eating Disorders
    • Anxiety Disorders

Note: This list is not inclusive of all psychiatric sub-specialties. You can find more of what’s available here.

(If you want to learn how long it takes to become a doctor in various physician specialties, check out our post on How Long Does It Take To Become a Doctor.)

Potential Salary 

Here’s a quick look into a psychiatrist’s potential salary:

Average Annual Salary

RangeAverage Hourly Rate


$227,293$182,169- $278,809$109$88-$134


That’s just around 73% of the total compensation. If you consider bonuses and other benefits (social security, healthcare, pension, etc.), psychiatrists are rewarded generously (and for no question). 🙂

(Note: Do you also want to know how much a cardiologist and a dermatologist earns? Check out our posts here and here.)

Job Outlook

Psychiatry, as well as all other physician and surgeon careers, are expected to still be in-demand between 2018-2028. To be specific, it’s projected to grow 7% faster than other occupations during this period according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, if you’re thinking about becoming a psychiatrist, there’s a big chance of employment only if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to be educated and trained. 

What Does The Typical Day Of A Psychiatrist Look Like?

What Does The Typical Day Of A Psychiatrist Look Like

While psychiatrists perform similar duties daily, their schedules may vary depending on where they’re currently at in their training, their setting, and area of practice. 

Here’s what some of their schedules look like:

First-Year Resident Psychiatrist Schedule:

Dr. Jordan Wong, a first-year psychiatry resident, typically starts his day at 7:00 am where he, after having breakfast, quickly sets out for a 10-minute walk to the hospital. He sees his patients between 8:00 am- 10:00 am, collaborates with psychologists and social workers for comprehensive patient care, and conducts journal article discussions with his attendings.

He spends time for some didactic learning between 12:00 pm- 1:00 pm too where he meets and learns with his co-residents. He then continues with his outpatient schedules in the afternoon and ends his day at around 4:30 pm. 

(Note: You can find out more about Dr. Wong as well as many other resident psychiatrists’ schedules in this post.)

Third-Year Resident Psychiatrist Schedule:

As a third-year psychiatry resident at UCSF, Dr. Peter Kass normally starts his day at 8:00 am while on an in-patient psych rotation. He does some in-patient rounds with a team of nurses and attendings, makes changes with patients’ treatment plans, and deals with patients with acute conditions.

Afterward, there’s an hour of lunch break. And when afternoon strikes, he starts with his outpatient rotation where he usually does psychotherapy with patients. 

(Note: You can find out more about Dr. Kass’s schedule on this YouTube video.)

Top Psychiatrists on Instagram

If you want to learn how some renowned psychiatrists are inspiring and reaching out to people on instagram, check out the following profiles!

Top Books About Psychiatry

Want to dive deeper into the world of Psychiatry? Check out these top Amazon books!

    1. The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson, MD
    2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association
    3. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce Perry, MD and Maia Szalavitz  
    4. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD
    5. First Aid for the Psychiatry Clerkship, Sixth Edition (First Aid Series) by Latha Ganti, MD, Matthew S. Kaufman, MD NY) and Sean M. Blitzstein, MD

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 

I hope you enjoyed this post on how to become a psychiatrist. There are plenty other resources to check out here:

How To Study For Step 1 [Get a 250+]
How To Study in Medical School [Ultimate Guide]
Ultimate Guide on How To Study For Step 2 CK (2021)
Step 1 Is Now Pass-Fail – The Good, Bad, & Ugly
How Long Does It Take To Be A Doctor? [Detailed Breakdown]
How To Become A Cancer Doctor

Until the next time, my friend…

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