As a psychiatrist, you will be working with patients who have a variety of afflictions and issues, including trauma, mental illness and addiction. Psychiatrists are considered mental health physicians. Due to the extensive and in-depth nature of psychiatry, it’s no wonder that it involves a lot of educational training (up to twelve years of academic study and clinical training is required to earn a psychiatry degree).

But is it possible to become a psychiatrist without a medical or psychology degree? For starters, the basic definition of a Psychiatrist would be a Medical Doctor who has subsequently specialized in the treatment of Psychiatric problems. A psychiatrist needs to be a medical doctor in order to get the license to prescribe Psychotropic (Psycho active) medication. Also, the training towards becoming a medical doctor and a psychiatrist involves learning about the Pharmacology of Psychiatric medicines (Psychopharmacology).

In addition, even with the highest Psychology degree (a doctorate), it is still not possible to be a psychiatrist because all psychiatrists need to have medical training from a medical school. If you do not have this very important training, you will not be able to prescribe any form of medication let alone treat anyone for mental issues. Therefore, the medical school route is the only path there is to become a psychiatrist.

All psychiatrists are medical doctors. They assess and treat mental illness and often focus on working with specific populations. Some psychiatrists focus on the more technical or research-based side of psychiatry by working in the forensics field or aiding companies and corporations in assessing the mental health of their employees and associates. Psychiatrists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, government offices, private practices and mental health clinics. They might also take positions in research-based universities. Depending on the job setting, the hours they work can vary greatly.

How To Become a Psychiatrist

Becoming a psychiatrist is a multi-step process. The process can be quite long and as such, you will need to be committed in order to see it through till the end. You will be in school for a number of years (usually around seven-eight years) before being able to practice as a psychiatrist. Some parts of your academic study will be dedicated to full time academic commitments such as a residency. During the period of your residency, it will not be possible to work while attending classes and completing clinicals. In this vein, it will be necessary for you to take a critical look at your schedule and lifestyle before committing to a psychiatry program.

The following are steps that you will need to follow if you intend to become psychiatrist.

  1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

You will first need to obtain a degree. It can be in biology, neurology, psychiatry, or even psychology. This initial degree will give you a rudimentary understanding of what psychiatry is about and the journey ahead of you. Psychiatrists at this stage are learning if they want to explore this field more in-depth. A Bachelor of Science degree comes in handy because it is what is required to enter medical school. You cannot have a bachelor’s degree in the arts such as writing or languages.

On the other hand, some schools may offer specific pre-med programs that are designed as a preparatory course towards enrolling in medical school. If you have made up your mind to choose the route of psychiatry at this point, it is best to talk to a career counselor or academic advisor. This is especially true if you plan on applying to med school at the same school. Also, it is good to gain hours working in a hospital or doctor’s office setting by volunteering. Sometimes you are able to set this up through school, as many medical programs work exclusively with doctors and hospitals in the area where alumni work. However, in other times, you will be required to find an internship-type program on your own. A lot of hospitals have volunteer programs, but there may not always be space depending on your location. Alternatively, you can volunteer at a nursing home or clinic to get medical field experience while still completing your bachelor’s degree.

2. Get a medical degree

This is the major part of becoming a psychiatrist. Medical school can be quite stressful and the practical aspect may not even begin in the first year. But don’t worry, for about four years you’ll attend medical school for a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Medical school is a blend of anatomy, pathology, and physiology which you will be taught to you in form of lectures and practical lessons. The curriculum also extends to include medical laws, pharmacology, psychology, proper medical professional ethics et al. All these elements are important in order to become a psychiatrist. Treating someone with mental illness is no walk in the park. And as such, you should take you studies seriously. Medical school is where you learn the fundamental skills of being a doctor and psychiatrist before entering your residency.

3. Go through residency

Your residency will be set up through your school and it is completed at a hospital or clinic. Since you are studying to become a psychiatrist, you will most likely work in the psych floor of a hospital or in a facility that services mentally ill patients. Usually, this will be the first time you will work directly with patients and under the supervision of licensed doctors. During your residency, you will get to apply all those skills you have amassed in school. During this time, you may be privileged to work with patients with a wide variety of mental disorders. Even though you may not go on to work with all mental patients in the future, it is important to gain experience treating every type of psychiatric problem you may come across in the course of your career.

Residency will be broken into a few parts and will span four years. The first portion of residency for psychiatrists and other medical professionals is typically four months of general medicine rotations. This will include family practice, pediatrics, or family medicine (or all three). An additional two months is spent working in neurology. The rest of residency is psychiatry and electives. In one year you will most likely be in inpatient psychiatry, the following year you will work with outpatient psychiatry, and any remaining months can be used for students to complete rotations in specialized fields of study. There are many specialized areas of psychiatry including geriatric psychiatry, child psychiatry, teen psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry.

4. Get your psychiatry license

In all states in America, before you can practice psychiatry and treat patients, you will need to have a license. The requirements that you will need to meet in order to sit for the state board exam differ from state to state. You want to attend school and complete residency in the same state you plan on practicing. If you move to another state, you will be required to sit for another exam to become licensed in that state. This test focuses on the state regulations and proper medical practices for that individual state due to the fact that a psychiatrist can write medical prescriptions for their patients and this usually means registering with the state to do this.

5. Become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN)

This final step is not a must. You can decide to do or not to do it, but it is much recommended because it will improve your chances of getting a job. The ABPN offers general psychiatry certificates, in addition to those that specialize with teenagers or addiction. You can check their website so as to find out about the different certificates offered for psychiatrists. This certification lasts for a period of 10 years, after which you will be required to renew it. This is common for many certified and licensed medical professions.

Without a doubt, the process involved in becoming a licensed psychiatrist can be quite daunting. Psychiatry can be a very difficult career to enter, however, for those who successfully enter into the field, it can be quite lucrative and rewarding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists made a median annual salary of $181,880 in 2014. The lowest ten percent in the profession made $61,600, while the highest paid in the field made over $187,000 per year. Psychiatrists who have earned certifications through the ABPN might be able to command a higher salary due to their credentials and might also see the best job opportunities.

Ajaero Tony Martins