Psychiatrists use a range of medical techniques to diagnose and treat mental illness. If you've ever thought about becoming a psychiatrist, read on to find out what the career is like and how much education you'll need to get there.

The specific duties necessary for psychiatrist careers tend to depend on the environment where they work and the individual patient they're treating, but their general responsibilities are fairly similar from case to case. Here's a quick rundown of tasks that psychiatrists often perform while on the job:

  • Analyzing patient data and behavior to diagnose mental, emotional and behavioral disorders
  • Prescribing psychotherapeutic treatments or medications to treat each individual patient
  • Collaborating with physicians, psychologists, social workers and others to discuss treatment plans
  • Conducting research and publishing findings in hopes of advancing the psychiatric field

Where do psychiatrists work?

Many psychiatrists work on staff at mental health clinics and hospitals or in their own private practice. Some take a more academic route, working at a college or university and choosing to research and publish more often than their colleagues in the field. Still others work for government organizations or in private group practices with other practitioners.

How to Become a Psychiatrist

Qualifying for psychiatry careers requires a considerable amount of education. Here's a basic list of steps that many aspiring psychiatrists take as they ramp up their qualifications:

  1. Graduate from high school or earn an equivalency degree
  2. Earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, preferably in psychology or pre-medicine. Explore psychology degree programs for more info.
  3. Take and pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  4. Complete a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree program
  5. Complete a three- to eight-year residency in a clinical setting

Psychiatric education doesn't stop when you finish your residency. Once you're working as a psychiatrist, you'll need to complete a certain number of continuing education credits, either in person or through online courses, to maintain your license.

Exams and licensing for psychiatrists

Licensing and board-certification are required before you can begin legally earning a psychiatrist salary. Depending on your degree, you'll need to take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) to become licensed. Once you have your license, you'll apply for certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Important Skills and Abilities for Psychiatrists

  • Active listening allows psychiatrists to pay close attention to their patients and better formulate an appropriate treatment plan
  • Inductive reasoning gives you the ability to combine the various pieces of information available and determine the best way to help each patient
  • Social perceptiveness gives you a solid framework for understanding patients' actions and reactions during a session
  • Oral expression skills make it possible to explain treatment options to patients and ask the right questions during evaluations
  • Judgment and decision making are essential in psychiatry careers, especially in situations where consequences may be serious

Psychiatrist Salary and Career Outlook

For an idea of what salary and job growth psychiatrists might expect, take a look at the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics below:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Professional Organizations for Psychiatrists

American Psychiatric Association

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry

Article Sources
Article Sources
  • Physicians and Surgeons, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 28, 2019,
  • Psychiatrists, Occupational Information Network, accessed June 28, 2019,
  • Maintain Your Certification and Licensure, American Psychiatric Association, accessed June 28, 2019,
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