If you are wanting to know how to become a psychiatrist you might have wondered at some time, “What is a psychiatrist?” A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has gone through professional training in mental health. Some clients visit a psychiatrist, specifically, for both medication administration and treatment. Other folks visit a psychiatrist exclusively for medications, and make use of other therapy associates for counseling.
Sometimes people confuse psychologists with psychiatrists, they are different professions. While both can do talk therapy, a psychiatrist is a doctor (M.D.) that can prescribe drugs when needed. Psychologists (Ph.D) cannot prescribe drugs because they are not doctors. Psychiatrists are very different than psychologists
You are about to undertake a great career in psychiatry, however, the steps to become a psychiatrist are rigorous and challenging. But, it can be very rewarding for those who have a passion for it. It also happens to be very financially rewarding as well. In 2011, psychiatrist salaries were estimated to make about $200,000 annually.
The path to becoming a psychiatrist is the same as anyone trying to be a doctor. A psychiatrist is a doctor, don’t forget. So you will be going to med school and fulfilling the same requirements of a doctor, before specializing afterwards by doing your residency in psychiatry.
Warning, if you are taking math and science classes right now that you are doing poorly in, you will have to do your best to improve your skills in these areas or reconsider if med-school or even psychiatry is meant for you. The path to med-school and then specializing in psychiatry requires intense focus on math and science classes.
If you’re in high school, start now
If you are not in high school, just skip down to the next steps. But if you are in high school and want to pursue a career in psychiatry, then you must start now. You will have to prepare yourself to go to a 4 year university. Talking to your school counselor will help a lot. But most of all, check out the websites for the universities you want to apply to see their requirements.
Obviously the higher your GPA, the better. Ultimately, you need to work on getting into the best college for you. What you do in high school doesn’t matter much when it comes to applying for med school after your bachelors. But med schools do care about a lot about your college performance, and they do take into account what university you went to.
The community college route
One of the best ways to get into a great 4 year university is to go to a community college and then transfer. You will save a lot of money in the process and have a much higher change of getting admitted than if you tried to apply directly out of high school. Most 4 year universities actually have a contract agreement with community colleges that guarantee a successful transfer, in California this is known as the TAG (Transfer Acceptance Guarantee) contract. Basically the contract outlines a list of general education classes that must be completed with a minimum GPA, usually its at least a 3.0. These requirements vary from university to university.
Premed classes at a community college, not recommended
When you apply for med school, they want to see that you took your premed classes at a 4 year university. While this may vary from college to college, typically the science classes you need to take in preparation for med school, are way harder at a 4 year university versus a community college. While this is not to say it is impossible to apply for med school if you took your premed courses at a community college, med schools will generally not take these courses as seriously.
Steps to becoming a psychiatrist at a 4 year university
As stated above, you will be preparing for medical school, this is the most important aspect in how to become a psychiatrist. So be prepared to take pre-med classes, which involves a lot of science classes. One thing to note, there are no major requirement for medical school. This means that you can pursue any degree that you want at a 4 year university.
While it is true that many doctors have majored in science, this is mostly due to the nature of the field, but that does not mean that science majors are a prerequisite for applying to med schools. You should definitely major in what interests you, but you will have to take the pre-med classes required by the medical school you want to apply for.
For instance, when it comes to becoming a psychiatrist, you should take a class in psychology to get a feel for your field of interest. Many of the required pre-med classes fulfill a large part of the science majors, so there is a tendency for students to pick a science major.
Some basic classes needed for most medical schools
- one year of physics
- one year of general chemistry
- one year of biology
- one year of organic chemistry
- one year of english
Some med schools have a calculus requirement. Again, this depends on the school. There is a book, Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR), that gives very detailed information about the requirements for all medical schools in the U.S. and Canada. Many schools have a copy of this in their library that can be used for free, this is how to become a psychiatrist in a more affordable manner.
Kick butt on the MCAT
What is the MCAT? The MCAT is the Medical College Admissions Test. Practically all medical schools require that you take this test in order to apply. This is an examination that you would typically take at the end of your junior year in college. However, this will depend on your readiness to do well on the exam. If you don’t do well the first time you can do it over again, in such a case, it would be advised to take the exam at the beginning of the year.
As for the MCAT it self, it is a multiple choice exam with an essay section at the end. The exam covers physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning, and a writing sample. One thing to note, having fantastic MCAT scores alone does not guarantee your admittance to your desired medical school. But you can bet that having bad MCAT scores will negatively impact your acceptance.
What are the GPA and MCAT requirements?
This question is tricky, because there isn’t a definitive answer, especially since it varies from year to year and school to school. Ultimately, it will depend on your competition. Obviously, the higher your GPA and MCAT scores, the better. The only definitive answer available is that the competition is fierce, especially for the more competitive colleges. You can check out this big list of colleges with median GPA and MCAT scores here: http://www.washington.edu/uaa/advising/downloads/gpamcat.pdf.
Looking at the list above, you can clearly see that average GPA is above a 3.6. Therefore, getting a high GPA and excellent MCAT scores is fundamental in how to become a psychiatrist.
Other factors in getting accepted to medical schools
MCAT and GPA scores will definitely be the biggest factors in determining your eligibility towards getting accepted to any medical school. But other factors do come into play. For instance, some undergraduate schools have more reputation than others and have more rigorous pre-med classes, so they will look at what undergraduate school you’re applying from.
They will also look at extracurricular activities, research experience, letters of recommendation, and volunteer experience. Furthermore, if you had instances of poor academic performance or if you failed any classes, especially your science classes, you must have a very good explanation.
While your GPA and MCAT are important, there may be instances where even with good GPA and MCAT scores, you may not get into the school you want. This is why its important to apply to multiple medical schools and have a good personal statement.
Lastly, if they accept your application, you will have to do interviews with your prospective school. You can learn some great interview tips for medical school here.
Becoming a pscyhiatrist | Medical school
Hooray, you’re in medical school if you make it to this stage. If you thought that process was challenging, time to tackle med school. Here you will have an additional 4 years of very rigorous schooling to look forward to. The next steps are very specific in how to become a psychiatrist.
For your first 2 years you will take some basic sciences classes. These classes include, anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry, histology, pathology and more. In the last 2 years, you will undergo clinical rotations where you will rotate through all major areas of medicine by working with doctors and resident doctors. You will study psychiatry, surgery, neurology, internal medicine, Ob-Gyn, pediatrics, and a few electives.
In your final year, its time to apply for a psychiatry residency program. You will go on interviews for different psychiatry residency programs. A computer will rank and match you with your program of interest, and around March you will find out where to go for residency.
Psychiatry residency programs are typically not very competitive, however, the very top programs are. You dedicate 4 years to doing your residency, during that time you do clinical work under the supervision of other physicians.
This is ultimately on-the-job training. You can expect to have very little sleep and work long hours for some parts of the residency program. In other programs, the whole residency may be that way. But for many psychiatry residencies, the work is tends to be lighter for the last 2 years.
Time to get paid
Well, a little bit. Residency typically pay about $34k to $41 thousand a year. Now, that doesn’t sound bad at all, but if you factor in the long hours, it ends up being roughly minimum wage.
Most people defer their loans during this time, but many may begin paying them off towards the end of their residency. With a bit less work during the last 2 years, some programs will allow residents to do extra work. The type of work can vary a lot, but could pay decently. You will be very busy if you choose to do this.
How to become a psychiatrist | Final steps
By this time, you are really close to becoming a psychiatrist. This is the near the the end of the road in how to become a psychiatrist. The second to last step is to get licensed.
Time to get licensed
In all states, it is required to be licensed as a psychiatrist, which you acquire through your state’s medical board. Most states have varying licensing requirements, each requiring you pass an examination which tests your knowledge of state regulations and medical practices. If you disperse medication, you will also have to be registered with the state.
Becoming board eligible
By now, if you are licensed, you can actually start working as a psychiatrist. However, becoming board certified through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) demonstrates your competence and could improve your employment opportunities. While getting certified is voluntary, it would behoove you to get certified.
To become board certified, there is a 2 step certification exam that takes roughly 1 year to complete if you are lucky enough to pass it on the first attempt.
The psychiatry board exam
In the first step, you take a multiple choice exam which is estimated to have a greater than 75% pass rate. The questions are can be very difficult. About 2/3 of it is psychiatry and 1/3 of it is neurology. You must pass both sections of the test, an excellent score in one section will mean nothing if you fail the other section.
In the second step, which can cause people a lot of anxiety, you will be scheduled for an oral exam. The oral exam consists of 2 parts- a video portion and a live patient. For the video portion, you watch a 30 minute video of part of an interview, and then you meet with 2 examiners for a 30 minute test. You are expected to present the patient and then answer questions from the examiners.
For the live patient part of the test, you have a real patient, a complete stranger, come in the room, and you have 30 minutes to interview that patient. You then have a 30 minute test where you present the case to another examiner and then answer questions.
Note: The second part of the exam is known to have a 50% pass rate. This is for people who have done well enough in college to get into med school, who have completed med school and matched in a residency, and who have completed a residency and passed a challenging written exam.
How to become a psychiatrist | The finish line
The steps listed above show you how to become a psychiatrist. And if you are willing to put in the rigorous work and time, it can definitely be done. Psychiatry, for those in the medical field who choose this path, can provide one of the more rewarding lifestyles out of all the areas of specialization.