What is psychiatry?

Psychiatry is a medical field that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Since trained psychiatrists are medical doctors, they use a combination of psychological techniques, such as talk therapy, and medical techniques, such as prescription medication.

The field of psychiatry encourages doctors to look for both physical and mental causes behind psychological problems. Physical causes might include a chemical imbalance or neurological problem. Mental causes might include psychological trauma, abuse, or personality disorders. Psychiatry encourages doctors to look for the underlying causes and use a combination of appropriate treatments to help patients deal with any mental or emotional triggers and improve their quality of life.

How long does it take to become a psychiatrist?

After high school, psychiatrists must complete 11-15 years of education and training to become a fully licensed psychiatrist. This involves completing 4 years of undergraduate education, 4 years of medical school, and between 3-7 years of residency and specialty training. Additionally, a student must complete certain licensure and certification requirements in order to legally practice psychiatry, although these licensure and certification requirements are typically completed while a student is fulfilling his or her years of medical school and residency training.

How to become a psychiatrist

Becoming a psychiatrist takes careful planning and commitment in college and beyond. Since psychiatrists have the potential to influence patients’ physical and mental health, a psychiatrist must complete several education requirements and demonstrate proficiency before opening a practice. This process begins as soon as a student enters college and – if everything goes as planned – ends as a licensed and certified psychiatrist with a thriving practice.

To become a psychiatrist, you must take the following steps.

What degrees do I need to become a Psychiatrist?

If you know you want to become a psychiatrist, taking the right classes even as an undergraduate student can set you on the right path for career success. While completing an undergraduate pre-med program isn’t a mandatory requirement, it can certainly provide a strong foundation to help you be successful in a rigorous medical school program. Other common pathways for students interested in psychiatry include completing a biology or psychology undergraduate program before transitioning to medical school.

As you transition to medical school, choose a college that offers a specialization in psychiatry. While this is not a requirement, it will help you get the best experience with your career pathway and connect you to professionals in your field. These classes can help you develop a competitive residency application by providing psychiatry experience before your residency. Faculty members will also be familiar with psychiatry residency programs and help you identify which programs are best for certain subspecialty areas.

Psychiatry specialties

Medical students following a psychiatry specialization can choose to subspecialize in addiction medicine, brain injury medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, or sleep medicine. In addition, they can also subspecialize in one of the following focus areas within the field of psychiatry.

• Forensic psychiatry – Police officers and detectives do get a limited amount of training in psychology for handling the tough situations they face out in the field, but it pales in comparison to the psychology training of a certified psychiatrist. Forensic psychiatrists specialize in criminal behavior and the thinking patterns of criminals, and they assist law enforcement on tough cases.
• Addiction psychiatry – Addiction is most often associated with drugs or alcohol, but it can also include smoking, gambling, food, or impulse control. Addiction psychiatrists specialize in helping individuals understand why their addictions exist and how to overcome them.
• Child and Adolescent psychiatry – Child psychiatrists are uniquely trained to diagnose and treat mental illness in children and adolescents. Unlike adults, children can’t always clearly express their thoughts and feelings, so child psychiatrists are trained to help them verbalize those thoughts and learn to express them in a healthy way.
• Geriatric psychiatry – As our population continues to live longer, geriatric psychiatrists will be in demand. These specialists help senior citizens and elderly populations deal with the mental disorders arising from chronic illnesses, retirement, isolation, and the aging process. Geriatric psychiatrists can identify and treat these mental illnesses that occur later in life and help geriatric patients maintain strong mental health.
• Consultation-Liaison psychiatry – This specialty allows psychiatrists to work more closely with their medical and surgical counterparts in a clinical setting. Liaison psychiatrists work with medical doctors in other fields to provide collaborative care for patients with medical comorbidities, such as diabetes, cancer, or AIDS. Serious medical conditions can have a lasting impact on a patient’s mental health, and consultation-liaison psychiatrists work

Psychology certifications

During medical school and residency, aspiring psychiatrists can begin to prepare for their medical licensing examinations. To practice medicine, psychiatrists must complete the licensing exams in the state they plan to practice and they must also become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).
Generally, a doctor who is seeking an MD degree will complete the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), while doctors seeking a DO degree will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX). These tests require hours of preparation and involve multiple parts taken over several years.

To be eligible to sit for the ABPN certification exam, doctors must graduate from an accredited medical school, have an active, unrestricted medical license, and completed the ABPN training program for board certification.

Career Outlook for a Psychiatrist

People will always have mental and psychological health challenges, so the need for psychiatrists will grow as our population grows. Additionally, increased mental stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic is creating greater demand for mental health professionals who can help patients through these challenging times. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics already predicted a faster-than-average job growth of 11% for the number of psychiatrists’ jobs between 2016 and 2026, but the true impact of the pandemic on psychiatrists’ career outlook still remains to be fully seen.

Salary Expectations of a Psychologist

According to the Medscape Psychiatrist Compensation Report for 2020, psychiatrists can expect to earn on average $268,000 per year. This salary is slightly below average across all physicians, but psychiatrists still earn more than general physicians and family medicine doctors. Information for the Medscape report was also collected prior to COVID-19, so some psychiatrists may see salary increases as they handle the mental health challenges caused by the pandemic. Psychiatrists who specialize in pandemic crisis management will be most likely to see wage increases over the next year.

Frequently Asked Questions for Psychiatry

What is community psychiatry?

Although it is not a subspecialty of psychiatry officially recognized by the ACGME, community psychology is a growing field that encourages treatment of the patient within his or her social, or community, environment. Community psychiatrists will go into schools, homeless shelters, elder care centers, military groups, or other service organizations to provide treatment for patients who may be unable or unwilling to receive treatment in a more traditional clinical setting.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Psychiatrists are fully licensed medical doctors and have the authority to prescribe medication that can be used in the treatment process. Psychologists are professionals who have majored in psychology, and they may even have an academic doctorate degree, but they are not medical doctors and therefore cannot prescribe medicine.

How has the field of psychiatry been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like with many other medical fields, the impact on psychiatry as a result of the pandemic has been profound. Psychiatry Research, a peer-reviewed medical journal, reports many recent changes in the field of psychiatry. Psychiatrists are conducting more patient sessions through telemedicine channels, and they are working harder to ensure patients’ safety when conducting in person sessions. Most research involving direct patient contact has been halted, and training programs and annual conferences have been cancelled or moved online.
The most notable impact mentioned is the rise in psychiatric issues related to job loss, financial stress, and the fear and uncertainty arising from the pandemic. Patients may be dealing with the loss of loved ones resulting from the disease, guilt, confusion, anxiety, loneliness, and a number of other emotions that can lead to a negative mental health spiral. Psychiatrists need to recognize these symptoms and offer healthy ways for patients to deal with them while still following the physical health guidelines to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from the disease.

Looking to start a career in Psychiatry? The American University of Antigua College of Medicine (AUA) is a fully accredited Caribbean medical school dedicated to providing an academic experience of the highest quality. Learn more about our MD program here.