1. Education

How to Become a Psychiatrist

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So you’re thinking about becoming a psychiatrist but you’re not quite sure where to begin? The first step is to spend a little time researching this career option to determine if it is right for you. A big part of this involves understanding the differences between psychiatrists and psychologists. While some people use these terms interchangeably, they are not the same. These two types of professionals differ significantly in professional focus and educational requirements.

In this quick overview, learn more about the steps you will need to go through in order to become a psychiatrist.

Step 1: Earn Your Bachelor's Degree

Undergraduate degree
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Start by earning your undergraduate degree with a focus on pre-med preparation. While many students might automatically choose a bachelor's in psychology, this certainly is not your only option. Social science fields such as sociology or health science can be a good choice, as are other concentrations more focused on the life sciences such as biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, or zoology.

During your undergraduate years, you will need to take courses that will prepare you for graduate school such as organic chemistry, biology, and physics. Check with your school about specific pre-med requirements and recommendations.

Sometime during your junior year, you will need to take the MCAT. When you apply to medical school, your acceptance will likely hinge on your scores on this important exam as well as your undergraduate grades.

Step 2: Attend Medical School

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Enroll in medical school. Remember, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor with advanced training in psychiatry. Medical school usually takes 4 to 5 years to complete. The first two years of the program typically concentrate on science courses including biology, anatomy, pathology, and related coursework.

During the last two years of your program, you will enter rotations where you will work directly with doctors and other health care professionals. In the last year of medical school, you should apply for residency. Your residency is a period of training in your chosen specialty area.

Step 3: Complete Your Residency

Medical student
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Complete your psychiatric residency. This residency takes four more years during which you will work in outpatient, inpatient, and various sub-specialty areas. In most cases, you will spend some time doing general medical rotations in areas including family medicine and pediatrics. You will then spend some time working in neurology before moving on and spending the remainder of your residency focusing on psychiatry and chosen electives.

Step 4: Become Licensed to Practice

Become licensed by passing your state's board exam. Every state requires psychiatrists to become licensed to practice, although each state has different requirements. Be sure to check out the steps you need to follow in the state where you plan to practice.

Step 5: Get Certified

Gain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) (Optional, but highly recommended).

Tips:

  • Maintain good grades in high school and college. Admission to medical school is highly competitive.
  • Be prepared for challenges. Medical school is no walk in the park and your residency and board certification will likely be equally demanding.

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