3 answers

Becoming a Psychiatrist seems like a big task, can someone give me some insight?

Updated Fontana, California

I understand that I have to go to college and major in Psychiatry, Biology, or Chemistry and then after that I have to go to medical school, but is the process of becoming one stressful and over bearing? If so could you give me tips on how to cope with this? I really want to become a Psychiatrist because I enjoy how people think and this job seems really interesting to work in. #psychiatry #medicine #healthcare #mental-health

3 answers

Daniela’s Answer

Updated State of Goiás, State of Goiás, Brazil
Hi Nicholas, If you’re considering specializing in psychiatry, one question that comes to mind may be how long it takes to become a psychiatrist. After graduating from high school and college, it generally takes eight years to become a psychiatrist. Keep in mind, training can continue beyond eight years. Some psychiatrists choose to complete a fellowship and further specialize in the field. Four years of college and eight more years of postgraduate studies is a lot of time to commit to your education. Before deciding if it’s something you want to pursue, it’s helpful to gain a thorough understanding of what a psychiatrist does and what it takes to work in the field. Although a psychiatrist does not perform the typical duties of other types of doctors, such as a general practitioner, emergency room physician or surgeon, a medical degree is still required. The first step in earning a medical degree is completing a four-year bachelor’s program. Med schools don’t require a specific major to get accepted. But you will have to complete certain science classes, which is why it pays to get a science foundation during high school. While some students who plan to go to med school major in biology and chemistry, it’s not a must. In fact, psychology may be a good major to choose. Not only will it provide you with a good entry to be a psychiatrist, but it will also help you be sure you enjoy the field. In addition to a four-year degree, you’ll also need to take the medical school admissions test. Four years of medical school is the next step in becoming a psychiatrist. During med school, you’ll attend classroom lectures and some classes will also include a corresponding lab. A big part of med school involves clinical rotations. During clinical rotations, you’ll be assigned to a hospital where you’ll spend a certain number of weeks focusing on a specific area of medical. For example, you might spend six weeks completing an obstetrics rotation and the next six weeks working in the emergency room. If you’re wondering what obstetrics has to do with psychiatry, the answer is not much. But in order to earn a medical doctor degree, you have to train in a variety of areas of medicine, not just the one you’ll be practising in. In addition to required clinical rotations, you’ll also complete some elective rotations. This is where you can pick specialties you’re interested in or that will compliment psychiatry. If you’re thinking after med school you’re done; hold on. Additional training is required. The next step in training involves completing a psychiatry residency. Psychiatry residences are usually four years and involve training in various areas, such as child psychology, geriatric psychology, crisis intervention and both inpatient and outpatient care. Source: https://www.gapmedics.com/blog/2016/07/27/how-long-does-ite-a-psychiatrist/ I hope this information can help you. All the best!

Alison’s Answer

Updated San Mateo, California

I know very few psychiatrists who went to medical school planning on becoming a psychiatrist. Most go with the idea of becoming another type of doctor, and find they really enjoy their psychiatry rotations or courses in medical school.


First off, psychiatrists study and treat the biological integration of the mind and body. Where the brain becomes a person, and how that goes right and wrong.

I find psychiatry a very rewarding and demanding job. It requires great intellect, ethics, and empathy. In exchange for treatment, patients must grant you their private thoughts and personal medical information. This level of trust requires great integrity and skill. In reward, you get paid not only financially, but in heartfelt gratitude. This job is best, for someone who is interested in both science and the humanities. I also think it’s best to have a stable temperament, humility, curiosity and empathy.


Being a psychologist, (a PhD) and being a psychiatrist are quite different, in the sense that a psychologist studies psychology, and may choose to get a masters degree or a PhDin the academic field of psychology. Ultimately many do become a therapist, if that is their interest, but not all of PhD’s in psychology practice clinical therapy.


Psychiatrists are trained in psychotherapy, but mostly do assessments and medical care. We often are better paid than psychologists, but typically have more paperwork, legal requirements, and loans to go with that income.


Psychiatrists typically offer medication management, diagnostic workups, hospital consultations and legal paperwork.


We combine psychotherapy and pharmacology in patient care, as part of our work, but doing formal hourly therapy visits with patients often reduces our income significantly. Most hospital systems I’ve worked for, or interviewed for, do not allow psychiatrists to offer ongoing psychotherapy to patients who don’t have medication or other medical needs. Those who do often limit it to a smaller percent of our work. Typically outpatient offices require 2-4 patient visits per hour. Private practices offer talk therapy with psychiatrists, but often accept a lower hourly income unless their patients pay out of pocket, instead of using insurance.

We often serve as clinic directors or psychiatric team leaders in collaboration with social workers, nurses, therapists, emergency room physicians, other medical doctors and the legal system.

If you want to spend lots of time in deep therapy sessions, a PhD or master’s in therapy would be a better fit.


Medical school is very arduous and expensive. I loved the experience, but it can be brutal at times. You start with two years of intense classroom work. This includes gross anatomy (including dissecting a cadaver), pathology, microbiology, physical exam skills etc.

Then 2 years of clinical rotations such as radiology, pediatrics, surgery. I frequently spent every third or fourth night awake in a hospital. Medical students are often trailing a resident and observing and helping out. Sometimes you are highly welcomed by a magnanimous attending, sometimes you are an additional burden on a stressed intern. I was given lots of scut work, and also taken out to lunch many times.

I pushed gurneys, held retractors, started IVs, did rectal exams, I even did the entire circumcision of four newborn boys. (Medical students must be closely supervised for all this, but are allowed to administer care). It was thrilling, boring, stressful, and routine all at the same time. I was emotionally abused by residents, I once got a risky needle stick. I often was so tired, I am truly lucky I never fell asleep behind the wheel.

Medicine is a life choice, and becoming a psychiatrist means of being a physician first.

I disagree with the prior opinion that OBGYN rotations, and much of my medical school learning has little bearing on my job now. For example, I counsel patients daily on how their hormones affect PMDD, post partem depression, and how their birth control affects their moods. I give the nuanced risks and benefits of taking psychiatric medications when trying to conceive. None of which is possible to fully understand without training in OBGYN.


We are a specialty of medicine. We check liver enzymes, and blood levels of drugs. We are also therapists at heart, who use that training to understand and help people in a deep and nuanced way that no other medical speciality gets trained in.


Anyone interested in psychiatry should consider shadowing a primary care doctor first. Committing to medical school without truly knowing what medical training and practice entails, would be a really big risk to take.


Good of luck in your choice!



Nancy’s Answer

Updated
Nicholas, Daniela has explained the process. You asked if it's stressful and overbearing. Most physicians find some aspects of training to be stressful. Is it worth it? Many say yes if they can hang in there. However, you are unique, and will learn a lot about your attitude toward hard work and study as an undergraduate and while preparing for the MCAT, the medical school admissions aptitude test. After getting to know yourself in college and exploring courses you will have a better idea of whether you want to pursue psychiatry. When handling the stress of college, take one step at a time and break assignments up so they feel manageable. Best of luck!