What degrees do you need to become a psychiatrist?

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Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose and treat mental conditions. Psychiatrists also treat mental problems, emotional difficulties, and addictions, and evaluate the patient's emotional health. They are also licensed physicians; they can prescribe necessary medications and confine patients to hospitals. Those who are interested in a career in psychiatry have to earn several degrees in order to become a psychiatrist.

Undergraduate Degree

A four-year bachelor's degree at an accredited university or college is a prerequisite to becoming a psychiatrist. This is necessary before entering medical school. Students do not have to major in pre-med or any other specific undergraduate major, but many students choose to major in some type of science such as psychology, biology, or chemistry. Students are usually required to take courses in biology, organic chemistry and other related fields to learn the academic information necessary to take the medical school entrance exam (the MCAT).

Medical School

After earning their undergraduate degrees, aspiring psychiatrists must then complete four years of medical school in order to earn an M.D. degree. Aspiring psychiatrists, along with other med students, first take general medicine courses such as anatomy, biology, medical law or ethics, and physiology during their first two years, before spending the last two years familiarising themselves with various medical specialisations in clinical settings.

Doctor of Osteopathy

A Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree is an alternative to a traditional medical school degree. This is a four-year degree available to graduates who have already obtained a bachelor's degree. Students learn many of the same things as medical school students, but there is an additional component of osteopathic medicine (manual therapy). Students who have earned a D.O. can become psychiatrists if they complete a rotating internship after obtaining their degree. The internship is divided among several medical organisations and establishments. They usually spend at least a year in the internship program.

Medical Residency

After completing medical school or a Doctor of Osteopathy program and internship, the required training for psychiatrists continues. Psychiatrists have to complete four to six years of psychiatric residency. The training provides them with practical experience and helps them sharpen their skills while learning how to interact with patients. This is done under the supervision of more experienced psychiatrists. During this period, psychiatrists can choose to specialise in a preferred, specific subfield of psychiatry, such as neuropsychiatry, addiction psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry.


In order to practice, psychiatrists must hold valid licenses in addition to their degrees. To obtain a license, they have to complete a residency and pass an examination. Additional psychiatrist certifications and other exams may also be required for different sub-specialities.

Career and Salary Outlook

Certified psychiatrists can expect a very positive and fruitful career. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, psychiatrists are expected to be in high demand, especially those who specialise in child psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2007, the mean annual salary for psychiatrists was approximately £94,250.

Psychiatrists can work in a range of medical environments, including hospitals, clinics, HMOs, medical schools, state hospitals, mental health centres, colleges, and communities.

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