How to Become a Psychiatrist

How to Become a Psychiatrist

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

To become a psychiatrist, you must first earn a bachelor's degree. It would be a good idea to take a premed program course in college, or a path in physical science or psychology.

The courses differ depending on which path you choose, but some of the courses are the same, mainly the math, sciences, and some psychology courses. You need to make sure you get the proper prerequisites for medical school.

A course load for premed might look like the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • College Algebra & Statistics
  • Introduction to Kinesiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

Be sure to keep your grades high, as medical school admissions are very competitive. You need to start prepping for the MCAT as well, because you need to take it to advance.

2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

Section Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tess reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

You have two program choices in medical school to become a Psychiatrist: a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program.

Each degree focuses on the same methods of treatment, but a DO degree also focuses on osteopathic manipulative medicine.

Whichever path you choose, you are facing 4-5 years in medical school. Your first couple of years will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Other life sciences

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and focus in on psychiatric practice.

You can also participate in research programs, if you get the invitation. You can expect to take the following courses to become a psychiatrist:

  • Behavioral science
  • Psychopathology
  • Psychiatry clerkship

4. Complete a Residency Program (4 Years)

After medical school, you have to complete your residency. During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you independent practice.

During your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to eight years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge.

Included throughout the residency are the following introductory clinical experiences:

  • Community psychiatry and community health
  • Child psychiatry
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Substance abuse
  • Consultation and liaison programs

When the fellowship is completed, the Psychiatrist earns certificates of added qualification in one of the following areas of practice:

  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Psychosomatic medicine
  • Forensic psychiatry

5. Earn the Required License & Certification

After you complete your residency you have to apply for your medical license and board certification. If you graduate from a MD program, you can take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

If you graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

Once you get your medical license, you can take the examination for board certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

The ABPN is also the issuing body for certifications in psychiatric subspecialties. You can take the test as many times as you need, but once you have your certification, you must renew it every ten years.

6. Maintain Certification Through Continue Education

After all the school, training, tests, and time, you have to earn continuing education credits to maintain your certification as a psychiatrist.

It usually takes about 30 continuing education credits per year. Some states require even more, you just have to check with your state to determine what the regulations are.