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Becoming a Psychiatrist

By Piper Chan

Before diving into the career of a psychiatrist, what is psychiatry? Psychiatry is the study and treatment of mental illness, emotional disturbances, and abnormal behaviour. The role of a psychiatrist is to ensure humane care and effective treatment to all with mental disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis process and treatment of mental health conditions. Main examples of the mental health conditions they help treat are depression, ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and schizophrenia [1]. A psychiatrist's daily routine includes gathering new client information, maintaining insightful records of existing patients, and organizing individualized treatments. Those treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and/or behavioral modification practices [4].

The first step for someone who wants to be a psychiatrist is to graduate high school or receive a GED. Afterwards, there is college or university. There is no specific degree needed to get into medical school; however, it is advised to take classes that teach biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, and or physics [3]. Furthermore, it is recommended to take these classes for a minimum of one year. Being a pre-med student helps cover the basics of all the topics. Encouraged majors overall are psychology, pre-med, and physical sciences.

A higher GPA is another goal an aspiring psychiatrist should strive for, as it increases one’s chances of being accepted into medical school. The average GPA of those accepted into medical school is 3.71 or higher. Applying students will need to take the medical college admission test (MCAT) as well [3]. The average score for accepted applicants is 511 out of 528 total points. The test is extremely long, with the usual time being around 7 hours. The test itself will determine your expertise in four sections: biological and biochemical foundations of living systems, chemical and physical foundations of biological systems, psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior, and critical analysis and reasoning skills [1].

Once accepted into medical school, it will take another four years to graduate. In medical school, students receive basic lessons on being a medical doctor (M.D.) or a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) depending on what path they chose. An M.D. offers allopathic treatments that address the specific symptoms of a disease, and a D.O. practices osteopathic medicine instead, which is focused on disease prevention. After graduating from medical school, students will begin to look for residency programs [2]. Residency programs are postgraduate training programs that allow graduated students to perform as a licensed practitioner under supervision of an experienced individual. For psychiatry, residencies typically take another four years. With college, medical school, and residency, it will take one an average of 12 years to become a licensed psychiatrist [2].

The third or fourth year of residency is typically when students decide what specific specialty their career will focus on. Many take courses within their programs to be more informed on the field; example courses are behavioral science, psychopathology, neurobiology, the context of mental health and illnesses, and neuroscience [4]. It is a good idea to research the specialties beforehand for a clearer career path.

To finally become a licensed psychiatrist, all states require doctors to obtain a license before practicing and treating patients unsupervised. In addition, psychiatrists must obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) [4]. Doctors are required to earn a minimum number of continuing education credits to maintain their license. The ABPN certification renewal conditions depend on the doctor’s area of specialty but usually are required every 10 years.

The positive aspects of becoming a psychiatrist include financial stability and occupation security. The median salary for psychiatrists is $194,000, and it has also been reported that the job growth for psychiatry is 18%, which is higher than most jobs [2]. Self-employment is an option for psychiatrists as well, opening more ways of work. However, there are disadvantages to becoming a psychiatrist, such as tuition. The education process for becoming a psychiatrist on average costs $170,000-$300,000. Not to mention, psychiatrists are subject to irregular hours and being on call for their patients. Typically, they are put on a 9 to 5 schedule. Being emotionally taxed is another major factor that needs to be considered when becoming a psychiatrist [3]. Psychiatrists are required to be genuine, sympathetic, and compassionate to their patients while staying professional. Critical thinking is an important part of the job; psychiatrists are required to be quick at analyzing their patients' emotional, mental, and physical state. Mental, emotional, and physical burnout is not unheard of as a result of the occupation.

Overall, becoming a psychiatrist is a relatively straightforward path that takes years of dedication and passion. Psychiatry is a large tree that branches into many specialties that can lead in varying directions. It is very beneficial to those who want multiple job opportunities to choose from while studying and figuring out what they specifically want to do in the field. Students naturally learn the basics of multiple science and pre-med majors along the way. Financial and job security is an existing benefactor as well. Most importantly though, it is a career that focuses on helping others who are suffering from mental conditions, which is a satisfying experience for many psychiatrists.


  1. Villines, Zawn. “Psychiatry 101: How to Become a Psychiatrist.” GT, March 26, 2020.

  2. Saliba, Michael. “How to Become a Psychiatrist.” Career Karma, August 28, 2020.

  3. Psychology Career Center. “How To Become a Psychiatrist in 5 Steps.” Psychology Career Center, January 29, 2018.

  4. Indeed. “How To Become A Psychiatrist.” Indeed, February 18, 2021.

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