A staggering 42.5 million adults in the U.S. live with anxiety, while 21 million contend with the weight of depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects 12 million adults, and 3.3 million bear the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Additionally, approximately 1.5 million adults in the U.S. navigate the complexities of schizophrenia. And these figures only begin to scratch the surface of the myriad mental health challenges that individuals may face.

Given this urgent demand for comprehensive mental health care, psychiatrists stand as invaluable pillars in offering crucial support and treatment for individuals in need. To help you make an informed decision about whether this is a path you’d like to pursue, let’s go through some essential information. We’ll explore what the profession entails, how many years it takes to become a psychiatrist, the necessary skills, and more.

What Is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a licensed medical professional with specialized expertise in the field of mental health. Psychiatry constitutes a distinct branch of medicine dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis, and therapeutic intervention of a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

These specialized physicians are skilled at addressing various mental health and behavioral conditions. They possess comprehensive medical training, enabling them to prescribe psychotropic medications, a capability not shared by psychologists or therapists.

What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

Psychiatrists’ expertise is indispensable in addressing various conditions that impact the human mind. With a deep understanding of the complexities of mental health, psychiatrists handle a wide array of duties and responsibilities, such as:

  • Conducting thorough assessments to diagnose mental health disorders
  • Gathering comprehensive medical histories and evaluating symptoms
  • Formulating individualized treatment plans tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of their patients
  • Prescribing and monitoring medications that can help alleviate symptoms or manage underlying conditions
  • Offering various forms of talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoanalytic therapy, and interpersonal therapy
  • Providing immediate intervention and stabilization to ensure the safety and well-being of their patients in case of emergencies
  • Working in tandem with other healthcare professionals, including psychologists, social workers, and primary care physicians
  • Advocating for mental health awareness and education, working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and promoting overall mental well-being in communities
  • Offering guidance on lifestyle modifications, stress management techniques, and early intervention strategies
  • Being culturally sensitive, recognizing the diverse backgrounds and experiences that influence mental health
  • Upholding and advocating for the rights of their patients, ensuring they receive dignified, respectful, and quality care in all aspects of their treatment

How Long Does It Take To Become a Psychiatrist?

The journey to becoming a psychiatrist is quite long, taking at least 12 years. Each phase—whether it pertains to education, training, or clinical experience—is imperative in providing psychiatrists with the expertise and skills needed to perform their duties. To gain an understanding of the duration required to become a psychiatrist, let’s examine each step more closely.

Earn a bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree program typically takes around four years to complete. This step ensures that prospective psychiatrists start learning about a diverse array of subjects related to their field of interest, honing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, completing prerequisites, as well as laying the foundation for the comprehensive medical knowledge they’ll acquire in later stages.

Take and pass the MCAT

After completing undergraduate studies, aspiring psychiatrists focus on preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This computer-based, standardized assessment evaluates their readiness for medical school. Students must devote several months to rigorous study and practice tests in order to achieve a competitive score and increase their chance of admission into medical school.

Complete a four-year medical school program

The duration of medical school spans four years and represents a period during which students immerse themselves in studies about the complexities of human biology, pathology, clinical medicine, and more.

In addition to theoretical knowledge, students gain practical experience through clinical rotations. This phase is crucial for building the in-depth medical expertise and clinical skills essential for psychiatric practice.

Complete a medical residency program

After medical school, students have to complete four years of residency focused on psychiatry. This experience provides intensive training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of mental health disorders, and it is instrumental in developing clinical proficiency and confidence in psychiatric care.

Secure a fellowship

While additional fellowship training in specialized areas like pediatric psychiatry or forensic psychiatry is not mandatory, some psychiatrists opt for it. These fellowship programs generally last for two to three years, providing psychiatrists with an opportunity to gain advanced expertise in a specific facet of psychiatry. With this specialized training, fellow doctors can provide better care for complex cases.

Get a license

Obtaining a medical license is an essential step for any practicing physician, including psychiatrists. This process includes completing the necessary paperwork, passing licensing exams, and meeting state or regional requirements. Although the timeline may vary, obtaining a medical license takes several months.

Become board certified

Board certification is a highly esteemed credential for psychiatrists, obtained by passing a rigorous examination after completing residency training. It indicates a commitment to upholding the highest standards of psychiatric care.

To prepare for and obtain board certification, psychiatrists typically spend several months in focused study and exam preparation. This phase highlights their dedication to excellence in psychiatric practice.

Essential Skills of a Psychiatrist


To be a successful psychiatrist, you need a mix of specific soft and hard skills:

Soft skills

  • Empathy: Be fully attentive and responsive to the patient’s feelings and needs.
  • Communication: Clearly express ideas and instructions to the patient.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Respect and understand diverse patient backgrounds.
  • Non-Judgmental Attitude: Keep an open mind to create a trusting environment.
  • Adaptability: Adjust your approach based on each patient’s unique needs and situations.

Hard skills

  • Clinical Knowledge: Understand psychiatric disorders well to make accurate assessments and diagnoses.
  • Medication Knowledge: Know the correct usage and side effects of psychiatric medications.
  • Planning Skills: Create and manage effective, personalized treatment plans.
  • Diagnostic Skills: Use standard criteria like the DSM for accurate diagnoses.
  • Therapeutic Skills: Be proficient in various treatment methods.
  • Legal Awareness: Know and follow laws and ethics related to patient care, like confidentiality.

Career Growth and Opportunities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for psychiatrists is exceptionally promising, with a projected growth rate of 7%, faster than the average across all occupations. This translates to an estimated 1,000 new openings for psychiatrists annually, on average, over the next decade. 

Moreover, psychiatrists have a plethora of career avenues to explore. They can opt for subspecialties within psychiatry, such as child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, and more. Each subspecialty offers a unique focus and provides an opportunity to make a profound impact in specific areas of mental health care.

Psychiatrists can also venture into non-clinical roles. These roles may involve research, policy-making, teaching, or consulting for organizations. In research, they contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the field of mental health, driving innovations in treatment modalities and understanding of psychiatric disorders. On the other hand, policy-making positions allow psychiatrists to influence mental health policies at local, national, or international levels, shaping the landscape of mental health care delivery. 

Teaching roles, often in academic institutions, enable them to impart their expertise to the next generation of mental health professionals, contributing to the field’s growth. Additionally, consulting roles in healthcare organizations, government agencies, or private companies entail these professionals provide valuable insights and expertise in various settings.

The Financial Perspective 

Psychiatry offers not only a fulfilling career in mental health care but also substantial financial rewards. Data from BLS reveals that the mean annual wage for psychiatrists stands at an impressive $249,760. This figure reflects the significant value placed on the expertise and specialized care that psychiatrists provide to individuals facing mental health challenges.

However, several factors can influence a psychiatrist’s salary. One significant determinant is the industry in which they practice. The top-paying industries for psychiatrists include ambulatory health care services, local government (excluding schools and hospitals), outpatient care centers, offices of physicians, and other residential care facilities.

Additionally, geographical location plays a pivotal role in salary considerations. Certain states tend to offer higher compensation for psychiatrists. According to data, the top-paying states for psychiatrists are New Mexico, Wyoming, Missouri, Maine, and New Jersey. 

It’s worth noting that while these states may offer higher average salaries, individual circumstances and factors such as cost of living should also be considered when evaluating overall compensation in a particular location.

Challenges and Considerations

Becoming a psychiatrist offers a chance to impact mental health positively, but it comes with its challenges. One hurdle is the emotional weight of treating severe mental health issues. So, aspiring psychiatrists should prioritize self-care, seek support, and establish boundaries for their well-being.

Keeping up with evolving mental health treatments is another challenge. Continuous learning and staying updated on new therapies are vital. Cultivating cultural sensitivity and effective communication with diverse patients are also essential in this case. But, most importantly, embracing these challenges with an open mind will help set the stage for a rewarding career in psychiatry.

The Bottom Line

For those driven to make a positive impact in this critical field, it’s reassuring to know that with dedicated schooling and training, one can become a licensed professional in just 12 years. This journey not only equips individuals with the necessary skills and expertise but also empowers them to transform lives.

If you’re passionate about this meaningful vocation, consider joining our medical school, and we’ll guide you toward enhancing mental health and well-being for individuals and communities alike.


How hard is it to become a psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist requires significant dedication and years of rigorous education and training. It’s a challenging but highly rewarding profession.

Do you have to go to med school to be a psychiatrist?

Yes, to become a psychiatrist, you must attend medical school and complete a psychiatry residency program.

Is being a psychiatrist worth it?

For those passionate about mental health and helping others, being a psychiatrist can be an incredibly fulfilling and meaningful career.

Why does it take so long to become a psychiatrist or similar highly-skilled professional?

Extensive education and training are necessary to equip professionals with the knowledge and skills to provide high-quality care and handle complex mental health issues.

What should I major in to become a psychiatrist?

While there’s no specific major requirement, a strong foundation in sciences like biology or psychology is beneficial. What’s most important is completing the necessary pre-medical courses.

How much does it cost to become a psychiatrist?

The cost varies, but it typically includes undergraduate education tuition, medical school tuition, residency program expenses, and licensing fees.