How to Become a Psychiatrist

Updated on January 15, 2024


Becoming a psychiatrist takes many years of education and training, but it’s a rewarding career helping people improve their mental health. First and foremost, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, typically four years, in a field like psychology or biology to gain foundational knowledge about human behavior and the brain. Next, you’ll need to attend medical school and earn your MD, which takes another four years. After that comes a four-year psychiatric residency where you receive specialized training under the supervision of experienced psychiatrists. Additionally, some choose to pursue a fellowship for an extra year or more of training in a psychiatric subspecialty. With dedication and many years of education, you’ll be well prepared for a meaningful career as a psychiatrist.

What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders and emotional problems. Psychiatrists have extensive medical training, including attending medical school and completing a four-year psychiatry residency program [1].

After finishing medical school, prospective psychiatrists must complete a four-year residency program to gain specialized training in treating mental health conditions. Residency involves assessing and diagnosing patients, developing treatment plans, prescribing medications, and providing therapy under the supervision of experienced psychiatrists.

Evaluating and Diagnosing Patients

A key role of psychiatrists is evaluating and diagnosing mental illnesses and conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction. They conduct psychiatric evaluations, asking patients about their symptoms, thoughts, feelings, medical history, and family history. Based on the evaluation, they determine if a mental health disorder is present and make an accurate diagnosis.

What do Psychiatrists do?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health disorders. Their day-to-day responsibilities typically involve:

Educational Requirements for Becoming a

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a psychiatrist is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Some common majors for aspiring psychiatrists include psychology, biology, neuroscience, or pre-med. However, you can major in anything as long as you complete all the prerequisite courses for medical school. These usually include biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English.

Attend Medical School

After obtaining their bachelor’s degree, future psychiatrists must attend and graduate from an accredited medical school and earn their medical degree (MD). While in medical school, students take courses in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, medical ethics, and various specialties like psychiatry. In the latter years, medical students participate in clinical rotations, gaining hands-on training and experience treating patients.

The Association of American Medical Colleges provides a searchable database of accredited MD programs in the United States.

Complete a Psychiatry Residency

Following medical school, prospective psychiatrists enter a four-year psychiatry residency program where they receive specialized training in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental illnesses. Residency provides supervised clinical training under licensed psychiatrists in hospital and community settings. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology has more details on residency requirements:

Postgraduate Training for Psychiatrist

Becoming a psychiatrist requires significant postgraduate training beyond medical school. Here are the main steps:

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Psychiatrist

Becoming a successful psychiatrist requires having certain skills and personal qualities that allow you to effectively treat patients. Some of the most important skills and qualities include:

Communication Skills

Excellent communication skills are vital for psychiatrists. You need to be able to actively listen to patients, build rapport, and ask probing questions to understand their conditions. Clear communication also allows you to explain diagnoses, treatment options, and instructions to patients. Being able to adjust your communication style to connect with diverse patients is key.


Showing empathy, compassion, and concern for patients facilitates trust and open dialogues. Patients need to feel heard and understood. As a psychiatrist, you must connect with patients on an emotional level to grasp their perspectives and experiences.

Problem-Solving Skills

Psychiatrists need strong analytical and problem-solving skills to evaluate patient information and determine accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. This involves assessing symptoms, risk factors, medical histories, and behavioral patterns. Critical thinking helps psychiatrists choose optimal evidence-based interventions for each patient’s needs.


Effectively treating mental health disorders often takes time and several treatment approaches. Psychiatrists must have patience throughout long-term treatment processes. Being patient also enables you to respond compassionately to patients in crisis or emotional distress.


Persistence and perseverance are vital for psychiatrists to withstand the emotionally taxing nature of the job. Constructively coping with setbacks and difficult patient cases is key. Continuously striving to improve treatment plans and help patients recover also requires perseverance.

Cultural Competence

Psychiatrists need cultural competence to provide inclusive care to diverse populations. This involves understanding how cultural backgrounds influence patients’ mental health experiences, perspectives of illness, and treatment expectations. Adapting approaches to align with patients’ cultural needs leads to better outcomes.

Psychiatrist Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
0-5 years $210,000
6-10 years $234,000
11-15 years $261,000
21+ years $280,000

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Psychiatry offers a wide range of career opportunities across diverse settings. After completing medical school and a 4-year psychiatry residency program, psychiatrists can choose to either set up a private practice or work in a hospital, clinic, or academic institution.

In private practice, psychiatrists can decide their working hours, choose the types of patients they want to treat, and set their fees. However, they also take on more administrative work and financial risks to manage their practice. Psychiatrists working in hospitals, clinics, community health centers, and academic institutions usually have more job security and benefits but less flexibility.

Regardless of the setting, there are opportunities for career advancement in psychiatry. With experience, psychiatrists may take on more complex cases, supervise residents and fellows, take on leadership/administrative roles, engage in research activities, and teach at academic institutions. Board certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is important for career advancement. Psychiatrists can become board-certified in general psychiatry as well as one of the ABPN’s 10 subspecialties like child and adolescent psychiatry and addiction psychiatry.

In addition to clinical work, career options for psychiatrists include consulting for legal cases, insurance companies, government agencies, and corporations. Psychiatrists can also advance their careers by writing books, blogging, podcasting, and public speaking around mental health issues. Telepsychiatry also offers flexible opportunities for psychiatrists to provide care remotely via video conferencing.

Overall, psychiatry is a versatile and dynamic field with strong career prospects. The growing demand for mental health services means those who enter this specialty have excellent job security and a wealth of options to shape rewarding careers that match their interests and aspirations.


In summary, becoming a psychiatrist requires significant education and training, but it can be a rewarding career helping people improve their mental health. The road starts with a bachelor’s degree, then four years of medical school to earn an MD or DO. After medical school, four years of residency focuses specifically on psychiatry, including assessing patients, making diagnoses, and determining treatment plans. Then psychiatrists must pass licensing exams to practice. Some also complete fellowships for specialized training. Though the path is long, the outcome is a meaningful career improving lives. The American Psychiatric Association provides more details on education requirements and career paths in psychiatry. With drive and passion for mental health, the journey to becoming a psychiatrist is worthwhile.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Psychiatric Association
  • Professional association representing psychiatrists in the U.S.
  • Information on psychiatric careers, training programs, board certification, and latest research.
Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Nonprofit representing medical schools and teaching hospitals in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Data and insights on medical education and physician workforce.
American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
  • A nonprofit that certifies psychiatrists and neurologists in the U.S
  • Details on initial certification and maintenance of certification.
Psychiatry Residency Explorer
  • Database for exploring and comparing psychiatry residency programs in the U.S.
  • Provides data on number of positions, application requirements, salary/benefits, and more.


What education do you need to become a psychiatrist?
To become a psychiatrist, you need to complete medical school and obtain a medical degree (MD or DO). After graduating from a 4-year accredited medical school, you must complete a 4-year psychiatry residency program to get additional clinical training and supervised experience in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. Many psychiatrists also pursue 1-2 years of additional fellowship training to subspecialize in areas like child and adolescent psychiatry or geriatric psychiatry.

What kind of experience is required?
Becoming a fully licensed psychiatrist requires at least 4 years of residency training after completing medical school. Residency provides supervised clinical experience in psychiatric assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Additional fellowship training beyond a general psychiatry residency can provide more specialized experience with particular patient populations. Before entering residency, medical students obtain experience treating patients in clinical clerkships/rotations. Some also pursue research opportunities or volunteer work related to mental health care.

What is the average salary for a psychiatrist?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for psychiatrists as of 2020 was $220,380 per year. Those working in outpatient care tend to earn less than those in hospitals or private practices. Psychiatrists who see patients via telepsychiatry also tend to have lower salaries. With additional experience and credentials, psychiatrists can earn over $300,000, especially those in private practice.

What are the potential job settings and work environments?
Psychiatrists may work in various settings, including private or group psychiatric practices, hospitals, clinics, prisons, universities, government agencies, schools, nonprofit organizations, telepsychiatry companies, or military settings. Their time is often divided among clinical work seeing and treating patients, consultation with other providers, documentation, research, teaching, and administrative duties. Some psychiatrists primarily do therapy and counseling, while others mainly manage medications.