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How to Become a Psychiatrist


Girl talking to a counselor
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Psychiatrist Career Overview:

A psychiatrist is a physician (M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in mental health care. Therefore, in order to practice psychiatry, a psychiatrist must complete all of the requirements to become a medical doctor, including four years of medical school, plus three years of residency training in psychiatry. A fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry is optional.

Psychiatry Practice and Employment Options:

Psychiatrists may be in practice for themselves or in partnership with other physicians or psychologists. Additionally, psychiatrists may be employed by government entities such as a state or county mental health department, or a correctional system. Some psychiatrists may be employed by hospitals but it is not as common.

Typical Responsibilities and Work Hours:

Psychiatrists may work with patients in an office setting or an inpatient facility where patients are admitted for overnight stays until they're stable enough to be released.

Those who work in an office based practice may spend most of their time in psychotherapy or talk therapy, discussing issues with patients who may suffer from neuroses, phobias, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, autism, or any one of many situations that may be treated in an office. The psychiatrist may prescribe medication or other therapies to help treat the patients.

Psychiatrists who see patients on an inpatient basis may see more serious disorders such as schizophrenia and other more severe psychiatric issues.

Regardless of the setting, most psychiatrists work over 40 hours a week if psychiatry is a full-time career. They also may have to be on call, particularly if the psychiatrist is affiliated with a mental hospital or inpatient mental health facility.

Sub-specialization Options for Psychiatrists:

Most psychiatrists practice general psychiatry. However, some may choose to do a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Other areas of sub-specialization include Addiction Medicine, and Geriatric psychiatry.

Average Income for Psychiatrists:

According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), general psychiatrists earn $206,992 annually, according to 2009 data based on 2008 earnings.

Psychiatrists vs. Psychologists:

While both psychiatrists and psychologists treat patients' mental health, the two are not interchangeable.

A psychiatrist is a physician, with an M.D. or D.O. degree from a medical school, whereas a psychologist typically holds a doctorate level degree (PhD.) in psychology, and did not complete medical school. Therefore, psychiatrists can prescribe drugs for treatment, but psychologists cannot. For more information, see psychiatrist vs. psychologist careers.

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