August 30, 2020

How to Become a Psychiatrist

Anshika Awasthi

With an increasing awareness about mental and emotional behaviour, health and healing, studying them and being able to provide help with treatment, psychoanalysis and medication for the same have become very important.

And for people who might come to you for therapy in the future, this can be especially intimidating because they are expected to share their whole life’s experiences and grievances with a stranger, who can sum it up in a word or two and prescribe medication or exercises to help them.

This is why it is extremely important to become an expert in the field of psychiatry before you can become a psychiatrist, and we’re here to help!

Who is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health, including the physical and mental aspects of psychological problems.

People seek help from psychiatrists for many reasons. They could be something as sudden as a panic attack or something more deep-rooted such as PTSD. Because psychiatrists are doctors, they can order full range medical laboratory and psychological tests which, combined with psychotherapy sessions with patients, provide a picture of their mental health and state.

The main focus of a psychiatrist is to eliminate or control troubling symptoms that can help your patients explore the effects of past relationships and experiences on their present mental state and behaviours.

Types of Psychiatrists

As a psychiatrist, you will be required to specialize in a particular area of psychiatry and train in treating your patients who are suffering from similar kinds of problems, or those who belong to the same demographic. Understanding the different types of psychiatrists can help you zero-in on a field of your choice:

Adolescent Psychiatrist- Adolescent psychiatrists are equipped with advanced knowledge regarding the mental and emotional problems that can affect the growth of children and adolescents under the age of 18. As an adolescent psychiatrist, you will be required to treat your patients via psychotherapy and prescribe medicines to treat various disorders.

General Adult Psychiatrist- As a general adult psychiatrist, you will be able to treat many psychological disorders that adults from the age of 18-65 might suffer. A general adult psychiatrist can possess knowledge of pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and psychology.

Addiction Psychiatrist- People who are suffering from problems related to addiction or substance abuse, and wish to overcome this addiction might seek out help from an addiction psychiatrist, who can treat their patients using therapeutic methods.

Disaster Psychiatrist- People suffering or trying to move past a traumatic incident in their lives that can trigger an overwhelming sense of shock, pain or loss, causing anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression disorder seek out help from a disaster psychiatrist.

Geriatric Psychiatrist- A geriatric psychiatrist is specially trained in treating and preventing cognitive damage that comes with old age. Elder patients who are suffering from mental and emotional problems can seek help from a geriatric psychiatrist.

What’s being a Psychiatrist Like?

TL;DR:

  1. 1
    Treating mental symptoms, making diagnosis and development of recovery plans.
  2. 2
    Treatment and therapy for long-term illness.
  3. 3
    Explaining to patients about the details of the treatment/ therapy.

As a psychiatrist, you will be able to assess and treat mental symptoms, and how they affect the physical health of your patients. You will be able to make a diagnosis and work with your patients to develop a management plan for their recovery, provide psychological treatments, prescribe medication or use methods such as electroconvulsive therapy.

You will be able to provide treatment and therapy for sudden mental illness, help your patients manage long-term mental conditions, provide advice about lifestyle changes, refer your patients to other health professionals, or admit them to a hospital if required.

Being a psychiatrist, you will have to explain why you recommend a certain treatment, how it works, what the side-effects and risks can be, and how much it will cost your patients. It is important to make it very clear to your patients that it could take as little as two weeks, or a few years to successfully treat your patients, depending upon the severity of their condition.

Psychiatrists rate their career 3.8/5 stars, ranking at 17% of the topmost happiest careers in the United States. As a psychiatrist, you might work in different settings, varying upon your choice of field such as mental health institutions, psychiatric clinic for private practices, hospitals, and part-time in prisons or other correction facilities.

How to Become & Qualify as a Psychiatrist?

TL;DR:

  1. 1
    Bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry, biology, written and oral communication.
  2. 2
    M.D or D.O from a medical school approved by the WHO. 
  3. 3
    Board Certification exam under the ABPN.
  4. 4
    Residency in psychiatry for 4-6 years.

If you aspire to become a psychiatrist, the first step is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Although as an aspiring psychiatrist, you can have a broad range of majors to choose from, the American Association of Medical Colleges found that most medical schools require prerequisites like biology, physics, chemistry, along with written and oral communication studies.

You must graduate from medical school approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), with either an M.D (Doctor of Medicine) or a D.O (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Then, you must complete a residency program in Psychiatry and upon successful completion; you must become Board Certified by taking an exam. The duration of residency program in Psychiatry might vary according to your country, but it can take you anywhere between 4 to 6 years.

Psychiatry residency also requires an additional 36 months (or 3 years) of supervised training, as required by the American Psychological Association, focusing on areas such as substance abuse, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychopharmacology.

To secure a license, you must give an exam in the state you wish to practice in. It is better to complete residency in the same state you wish to get a license for, as well. To become Board Certified, you must:

  1. 1
    Hold unrestricted license to practice in at least one state,
  2. 2
    Complete required training for psychiatry specialty, under the ABPN,
  3. 3
    Test for and pass the American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology (ABPN) exam for psychiatry specialty.

Psychiatrist Skills

TL;DR:

  1. 1
    Passion for helping people.
  2. 2
    Ability to cope with stress and remain calm under duress.
  3. 3
    Understanding of basic psychology and psychotherapy skills.
  4. 4
    Communication skills and emotional intelligence.

Becoming a psychiatrist requires a passion for helping people and having the necessary patience to evaluate your patients even when they are not eager to cooperate due to severe stress or mental symptoms. As a psychiatrist, you will deal with people who come various backgrounds, sects of the society, financial, emotional or social problems that may aggravate their mental disorder. As a doctor, you must identify these factors and eliminate them before proceeding to the actual treatment.

You must also have the ability to cope with stress and remain calm during difficult situations because some patients may become physically or verbally aggressive during therapy. However, only a small fraction of your patients might be prone to aggressive behaviour, which can be treated with sedatives.

As a psychiatrist, you must also have excellent understanding of basic psychology and must possess the required psychotherapy (also known as talk-therapy) skills that can help your patients without the need for too much medication. In fact, many psychological disorders such as depression, phobias and anxiety can be treated effectively through psychotherapy alone. Medication is only used when counselling and psychotherapy fail to give results.

You must also have really good communication skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence to understand your patient’s emotional and mental problems and formulate the best course of action for their treatment. In certain cases, relapse of symptoms may occur in your patients, and a new treatment strategy may be required. To do that, you will need to think quickly and accurately.

Psychiatrist Training

To become a psychiatrist, you must complete medical school and take a written exam for a state license to practice medicine, and then complete 4 years of psychiatry residency. The first year of residency is typically in a hospital working with patients who have a wide range of medical illnesses. You will then spend 3 additional years training in learning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health, including various forms of psychotherapy, psychiatric medication and other treatments. Training takes place in in-patient, out-patient and emergency rooms.

After completing residency, you must take a written and oral exam given by the American Board of Psychology and Neurology to become a Board Certified psychiatrist. You must also get re-certified every 10 years in order to continue your practice.

You can also take up additional specialized training after your 4 years of residency in psychiatry in child & adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, forensic (legal) psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, pain medicine, psychosomatic (mind and body) medicine or sleep medicine. Some psychiatrists choose additional training in psychoanalysis or psychiatric research.

Psychiatrist Pay

As of 2017, the average pay for psychiatrists is $216,090 per year, while wages can start from as much as $71,560 per year.

As a psychiatrist, you will earn according to your level of experience. Junior level psychiatrists start earning at around $143,450 per year. The top 5 paying states for psychiatrists in the U.S, as of 2017, are South Dakota ($267,520 per year), California ($252,030 per year), Wyoming ($251,070 per year), Alaska ($248,550 per year) and Indiana ($235,470 per year).

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, as of 2018, those employed under the local government earn the highest with $253,140 per year, outpatient care centres earn $241,820 per year, psychiatrists employed in the offices of physicians earn $220,010 per year, those at psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earn $209,080 per year, and general medical and surgical hospitals earn $208,870 per year.

Being a psychiatrist may require a lot of patience and skill, but it is also one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.

Challenges of Becoming a Psychiatrist

Being a psychiatrist can be incredibly taxing and exhausting emotionally. In your duration at practice, several people will come to you for treatment and you will be required to bond with your patients in order to understand them better and administer their treatment effectively. In such a case, losing at least one patient to extreme circumstances might happen, and you will be required to compose yourself in spite of a difficult time.

Psychiatry is one of the high-stress careers. Not only will your day revolve around 6-8 hours or more of appointments with your patients, but also you will have to listen to their frustrations and grievances and do so patiently, because psychotherapy requires talking and sorting through your patient’s life and experiences. In such situations, you will be required to remain patient and be good at separating work-life from personal life.

Psychiatrist Outlook

There is currently an estimate of 27,500 psychiatrists in the U.S. The psychiatrist job market is expected to grow by 11.3% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

The top 5 states that employ psychiatrists are New York with an average of 3,700, California with an average of 3,040, Ohio with an average of 1,350, Texas with an average of 1,110, and New Jersey with an average of 1,030.

Prospects should especially be good for psychiatrists who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas because these areas have difficulty attracting physicians. Also, with the increase in awareness about mental health, more people are seeking out therapy for a better lifestyle.

Bottom Line

Psychiatry may be quite stressful at times, especially when you choose to work with more acutely ill patients. But the best part is that as a psychiatrist, you can construct as calm or as busy an environment as you choose to work with. You could work with outpatient, inpatient or ER units according to your convenience. Since as a psychiatrist, you will be required to remain calm and relaxed with your patients, you also get to build a long-term bond with your patients in order for the treatment to show more positive results. The kind of treatment you’ll provide to your patients is also one of the reasons why being a psychiatrist can be a highly rewarding job.

About the author

Competitive, real; loves to keep working for what it wants. An extrovert who lives by her own ideas and methods.


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