Psychiatrist

Anxiety, depression, addiction, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and bipolar are just a few of the mental health illnesses that affect millions of Americans each year. In fact, one in five people will experience some kind of mental illness, and one in 25 will have a serious mental disorder. There are many different mental health professionals who can help people experiencing these disorders, but only a few types are licensed doctors, including psychiatrists.

Psychiatrists investigate human behavior, diagnose mental illness, and treat patients with psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, and other therapies. They have received extensive specialized training during their years of residency and are licensed as either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO). Additionally, in order to practice, they must be board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Becoming a psychiatrist takes between 15 to 20 years of expensive schooling. Despite this, the career is growing faster than average in the United States. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) reports that openings for psychiatrists will swell 12 percent nationally between 2019 and 2029—more than three times the projected average growth for all occupations during that period (4 percent).

Keep reading to learn how to become a psychiatrist, the job duties they perform, top schools in the country with psychiatric residencies, and steps to licensure.

Psychiatrist Specializations & Degree Types

Psychiatrists have completed four years of medical school and a residency. They are either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO). MDs practice allopathic medicine which aims to cure patients through the application of remedies such as surgery or drugs. DOs, by contrast, practice osteopathic medicine which is more holistic and looks at all factors, including one’s environment, nutrition, and body system when diagnosing and treating a patient.

Psychiatry has a wide range of specializations and doctors in this field can be certified in sleep disorders, pain medicine, child and adolescent psychiatry, and addiction psychiatry among others.

Admissions Requirements for Psychiatrist Programs

Medical school is required in order to become a psychiatrist. Admission requirements vary from school to school, but most require completing a bachelor’s degree in health sciences, biology, pre-med, or a related field. Medical schools also require students to have taken the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Upon completing medical school, students will specialize in psychiatry during their residency. Obtaining a residency in psychiatry includes a very competitive interview but students can improve their chances of acceptance with proof of qualifying coursework, letters of recommendation, and an outstanding personal statement. Background checks are mandatory as well.

Psychiatrist Program Accreditation

All medical schools in the United States are required to be accredited programs. MD programs are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). Every year the LCME publishes a directory of accredited programs. Doctor of osteopathy schools are accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA).

Accreditation for medical programs is critical as residency programs will not accept students who have attended an unaccredited school.

On-Campus Psychiatrist Degree Programs & Residencies

All medical schools in the United States follow a four-year program, where students are required to complete general medical training and rotations in all specialties, including family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, and psychiatry. Below are some of the top medical schools in the country with psychiatric residency programs.

Johns Hopkins University – School of Medicine

The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is one of the leading medical schools in the country. The psychiatry program is ranked number two in the nation by US News & World Report (2021). The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services treats adults, adolescents, children, and those with substance abuse disorders. Both medical students and residents receive training and education in this top-notch department.

Groundbreaking research is happening at Johns Hopkins including the formation of a new Psychedelic Research Center, which will be examining the use of mind-altering drugs for treatment and therapy, research into mental health and well-being during and after pregnancy, and discovering new ways of treating substance abuse disorders.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $54,900 per year

Stanford University – School of Medicine

Stanford’s School of Medicine has one of the top-ranked psychiatric programs in the nation coming in at number 10 on the US News & World Report rankings. With small cohorts of 90 to 100 students, this program fosters community and collaboration. Since Stanford University is such a large institution, medical students have the opportunity to complete a dual degree in partnership with many other departments on campus.

During a psychiatric residency at Stanford, students work with inpatient and outpatient clients, participate in a rotation in emergency psychiatry, and learn advanced psychotherapy techniques. This program not only focuses on the mental health of its patients, but also of its residents offering counseling, free yoga, self-care retreats, and weekly processing groups to ensure students stay healthy and well.

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $58,197 per year

University of California, San Francisco – School of Medicine

There is a wide range of psychiatric programs available at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. Fellowships are available in both clinical and research settings as well as a residency program focused on adults and another on adolescents and children. The department of psychiatry coordinates all of the elective psychiatry courses for the medical students and residents

With over 30 different research programs, centers, and laboratories, Stanford is a leader in innovations in this field. A primary area of research is digital health and the use of technology to advance mental health. The school even has a mental health biostats department to provide consultative services to the doctors on how to measure, collect, and interpret data collected during research.

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $47,222 per year

University of California, Los Angeles – David Geffen School of Medicine

With an astounding 14 researchers named amongst the world’s most influential scientists, two of whom are in psychiatry, students at the David Geffen School of Medicine have access to some of the best minds in the field. Psychiatric residency specialties here include geriatrics, neuropsychology, and children and adolescents.

Students and residents at UCLA are immersed in the emerging field of precision medicine which looks at a patient’s genes in order to be able to treat their specific illness in a targeted and unique way. Pioneering work is happening identifying genetics that may be causing neurological and psychiatric diseases, including autism and dementia.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $47,432 per year

Medical University of South Carolina – College of Medicine

The Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine offers psychiatrist residencies and fellowships. They offer programs in just psychiatry or a combined program in medicine and psychiatry or neurology and psychiatry. Within a residency program, doctors can further specialize in research, interventional psychiatry, and psychotherapy. Specializations for fellowships include addiction psychiatry, child and adolescents, geriatric psychiatry, or forensic psychiatry.

With such a robust residency and fellowship program, this school is also an excellent choice for medical students interested in psychiatry as they will have access to do rounds in the same clinics. Upon completion of a residency, graduates are eligible to sit for board certification. There are several emerging fellowship programs that don’t have board certification classification yet that students can also study, such as women’s mental health.

  • Location: Charleston, SC
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: Up to $76,773 per year

University of Illinois at Chicago – College of Medicine

The department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine provides residency and fellowship programs in addition to continuing education for professionals already in the field. This world-class program 24th in the nation for National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funding and first in Illinois. These funds provide professionals in this department to conduct cutting-edge research in which residents can participate in.

Graduates of the residencies and fellowships from UIC will have a strong foundation for continued education, as this program does not aim to be definitive. The goal is to develop doctors into lifelong learners and researchers who will continue to advance this field.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $111,626 per year

New York University – Grossman School of Medicine

The New York University Grossman School of Medicine offers a psychiatry residency or a double board residency in neurology and psychiatry. Rotations for these residencies happen at one of three NYU hospitals where doctors gain hands-on experience with patients. In addition to working directly with patients, residents will participate in rigorous didactic courses that will further their knowledge in the field.

This competitive residency only has 14 openings in the general residency and only one or two openings in the double board residency. To stand out from all the other applicants, doctors who wish to do their residency at NYU must interview well, have a compelling personal statement, receive glowing recommendations, and have experience in the field.

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Duration: Four to six years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $57,476 per year

Duke University – School of Medicine

The psychiatric residency at the Duke University School of Medicine is a combined medical and psychiatric program. The goal of the program is to train doctors to provide compassionate medical and psychiatric care to patients. This program also has a strong emphasis on addressing bias, racism, sexism, and other disparities in order to provide the highest level of care to diverse populations.

Upon completing this program, doctors are eligible for board certification from both the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Since there are two specialties, this residency takes five years, instead of the four for most standard programs.

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: Five years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $47,556 per year

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine

The psychiatric residency for Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine is completed at Millcreek Community Hospital. Residents gain experience in both inpatient and outpatient settings and become well versed in-clinic procedures. This hospital houses the largest psychiatric facility in Northwestern Pennsylvania and provides patients with supportive services such as case management in addition to acute care.

This residency is only open to doctors of osteopathy as Millcreek is only a DO hospital. The American College of Osteopathic Neurologists and Psychiatrists approves this program, allowing residents who complete it to apply to the college for membership. Students will complete rotations in geriatric psychiatry, forensic psychotherapy, emergency psychiatry, psychotherapy, and internal medicine during their program.

  • Location: Erie, PA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA)
  • Tuition: $36,000 per year

Mayo Clinic – College of Medicine and Science

The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science has over 280 residencies and fellowships, including eight in psychiatry. The two primary residences doctors can complete include child and adolescent psychiatry and general psychiatry. Fellowships are offered in clinical, geriatric, addiction psychiatry, and more.

The general psychiatric residency program boasts a 100 percent graduation rate as well as a 100 percent post-residency placement rate. Each year there are typically 11 spots available in this competitive program. Residents will receive well-rounded instruction in research, clinical practice, and education. These residencies take place in Minnesota, where residents can complete rounds at the Mayo Clinic Hospital as well as the Saint Marys Campus, Mayo’s 73-bed psychiatric hospital.

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)
  • Tuition: $58,900 per year

Online or Hybrid Psychiatrist Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of obtaining a medical degree, there are no hybrid or online programs available, although some specific courses may be offered in a hybrid or online format.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists must complete medical school and residency in order to obtain a state license and board certification. Including four years of high school, this path can take 15 to 20 years.

How To Become a Psychiatrist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

In order to pursue an undergraduate degree, students must obtain a high school diploma or GED. Courses in science, math, and psychology will prepare students for further studies.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program (Four Years)

Students pursuing a medical career will need to complete a bachelor’s degree in science. Majors can include biology, health sciences, or even chemistry. Many medical schools have prerequisite course requirements so students should ensure they take those classes while completing their undergraduate program.

Step 3: Take the MCAT Exam (Timeline Varies)

Prospective medical school students should take the MCAT in April or May of the year before they wish to start. Most students take the test at the end of their junior year if they want to enroll in medical school immediately after completing their bachelor’s.

Step 4: Apply for Medical School (Timeline Varies)

Most schools use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) for incoming first-year students. This centralized application process allows students to easily submit applications to multiple schools. Applications are submitted a full year in advance. Undergraduate students typically apply the summer before their senior year to begin medical school upon graduation.

Step 5: Attend Medical School (Four Years)

General medical school education takes four years to complete. While completing general requirements, students have the opportunity to shadow many different specialties. Students who wish to pursue psychiatry should choose a medical school with an outstanding psychiatric department, as that will give them good exposure to the specialty.

Step 6: Apply for a Psychiatric Residency (During Medical School)

During the fourth year of residency, students apply for their specialty residency programs. Numerous hospitals and schools across the United States offer spots for medical school graduates to receive hands-on training in psychiatry. The application process is rigorous and involves interviews and extensive supplemental materials. Students are matched to their programs in March.

Step 7: Fulfill Residency Requirements (Three to Seven Years)

Each residency has its own requirements and timelines. Most psychiatric residency programs are four years long, but some may be shorter or longer.

Step 8: Sit for the National Licensing Exams (Timelines Vary)

Upon completion of their residency, prospective MDs will take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) and prospective DOs will take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMPLEX-USA). The extensive standardized tests evaluate the skills and knowledge obtained during medical school and years of residency.

Step 9: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Once a prospective psychiatrist’s education, residency, and testing have been completed, the candidate can apply to their state for licensure and begin practicing medicine.

Step 10: Take the Exam to Become Board Certified (Timelines Vary)

To practice as a psychiatrist one must become board certified by passing the test from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). This certification must be renewed every year.

What Do Psychiatrists Do?

Psychiatrists work in hospitals, public clinics, private practices, emergency rooms, inpatient treatment programs, and in research facilities. Daily duties vary based on the place of employment but can include the following:

  • Assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses
  • Give advice on lifestyle changes for better mental health
  • Provide psychotherapy
  • Admit patients to the hospital, if necessary
  • Prescribe medications, when needed
  • Offer a second opinion or advise other doctors on complicated cases
  • Work with individuals, groups, or families to improve mental health
  • Apply therapies such as electroconvulsive therapy

Psychiatrist Certifications & Licensure

Doctors must be board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) in order to practice psychiatry. They also must be licensed as an MD or OD by the state in which they practice.

Additionally, doctors can receive board certification in the specialties of neurology or child neurology. Subspecialty certification includes addiction, pain medicine, neurodevelopmental disabilities, or forensic psychiatry, just to name a few.

How Much Do Psychiatrists Make?

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (2020) reports that the 25,530 psychiatrists in the country earn an average annual salary of $220,430. Those at the lower end (10th percentile) earn $74,530 or less, while the BLS did not have exact figures for those at the higher end since it does not report percentile salaries in excess of $208,000 annually.

Psychiatrist Career Alternatives

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are nurses who have completed additional education and training to provide psychiatric care to patients. In most states, they are also authorized to prescribe medications. While this role is very similar to psychiatrists, professionals in this field attend nursing school instead of medical school.

  • Typical Education: Master’s in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Nurses Credentialing Center

Psychologist

Psychologists, like psychiatrists, provide care to patients with mental health disorders. Unlike psychiatrists, however, psychologists cannot prescribe medications. Psychologists must complete either a doctor of psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD) degree.

  • Typical Education: Doctor of psychology (PsyD) or a doctor of philosophy in psychology (PhD)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors also help patients with mental health disorders. They primarily provide therapy-based services to help clients overcome or cope with difficult life circumstances. In some states, mental health counselors can diagnose mental health disorders.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certified Counselors

Family Practitioner

Family practitioners are medical doctors or doctors of osteopathy who have completed a family medicine residency. They provide general care for people of all ages, including preventative care and basic mental health services.

  • Typical Education: Doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Family Medicine
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.