Aspiring mental health professionals undergo an extensive psychiatric schooling journey in order to practice their profession.  This comprehensive process involves rigorous training in medical school and specialized residency programs.

Throughout their journey, psychiatric aspirants acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and clinical experience to diagnose and treat mental health disorders effectively. This article provides an overview of the educational process to become a psychiatrist, outlining the essential steps and requirements for aspiring psychiatrists.

What Do Psychiatrists Do?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health and emotional well-being. They evaluate, diagnose, and treat a wide range of mental disorders and emotional issues using a variety of therapeutic techniques, including medication management and psychotherapy. Their work encompasses understanding the biological, psychological, and social factors contributing to mental health conditions.

Psychiatrists work with patients across various demographics and with diverse conditions, including:

  • Individuals with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder;
  • People struggling with anxiety disorders and/or personality disorders;
  • Patients dealing with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia;
  • Those facing substance abuse or addiction issues;
  • Patients with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder;
  • Individuals experiencing trauma-related disorders such as PTSD. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist typically takes around 12 years of education and training. This includes completing a bachelor’s degree (4 years), attending medical school (4 years), and undergoing residency training in psychiatry (4 years).

While the exact duration may vary depending on individual circumstances and additional fellowship training, aspiring psychiatrists can expect a significant time investment to achieve licensure in their field.

How to Become a Psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist involves several essential steps, from completing an undergraduate degree to attending medical school. Below we will discuss in more detail each step of the psychiatric educational journey.

1. Undergraduate psychiatrist degree

The initial step toward a career in psychiatry is obtaining an undergraduate degree, which serves as the foundation for further education and training. While specific majors aren’t required for medical school admission, many prospective psychiatrists opt for psychology, biology, chemistry, or pre-medicine degrees.

But beyond attending classes, maintaining a high GPA and securing relevant experience through internships, research endeavors, or volunteer work within mental health settings is imperative for success in becoming a psychiatrist. While these experiences offer valuable insights into psychiatry, they also bolster the medical school application. 

Moreover, engaging in extracurricular activities, such as involvement in student organizations or community service, can also showcase leadership abilities and interpersonal skills vital for success in medical school and future psychiatric practice.

2. Medical school

After completing their undergraduate degree, aspiring psychiatrists must attend medical school to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. Admission to medical school is highly competitive and typically requires:

The MCAT assesses knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and is critical to the medical school application process. Above-average MCAT Scores ranging from 502-508 put applicants ahead of the pack in medical school admissions (50%+), while competitive MCAT Scores ranging from 509-514 place them in a highly competitive position (top 25% of MCAT test takers). Best MCAT Scores ranging from 515-528, indicative of the top 10% of all MCAT test takers, further enhance an applicant’s competitiveness.

After aspiring psychiatric students are accepted into a medical school, they undergo comprehensive training in the biomedical sciences, clinical skills, and patient care. They also have the opportunity to explore various medical specialties, including psychiatry, through clinical rotations and electives.

3. Residency

Upon completing medical school, psychiatrists enter a four-year residency program, refining their diagnostic and treatment skills for mental health disorders under expert supervision. During residency, they rotate through various clinical settings, like hospitals and outpatient clinics, gaining diverse experience in psychiatric subspecialties.

These subspecialties cater to specific patient populations and unique mental health challenges. Some psychiatrists pursue additional fellowship training in specialized areas to enhance their expertise. Some of these specialities include:

  • Addiction Psychiatry: Focuses on diagnosing and managing substance use disorders, tailoring interventions to individual needs, and addressing underlying psychological factors driving addiction.
  • Geriatric Psychiatry: Dedicated to mental health care for older adults, handling conditions like dementia, depression, and late-life anxiety. 
  • Pediatric Psychiatry: Specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health issues in children and adolescents, using developmentally appropriate interventions and collaborating with families for healthy emotional development.
  • Neuropsychiatry: An interdisciplinary field investigating the relationship between psychiatric conditions and neurological disorders, employing advanced diagnostic techniques to tailor treatment strategies. 

4. Medical license

Upon completion of residency training, psychiatrists must obtain a medical license to practice independently. Licensure requirements vary by state but generally include:

  • Passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX).
  • Completing additional postgraduate training requirements.
  • Meeting any state-specific eligibility criteria. 

Psychiatrists may also pursue board certification through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) or the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry (AOBNP). These certifications help them demonstrate their expertise and commitment to the field.

However, to maintain licensure and board certification psychiatrists need to participate in continuing medical education and meet periodic recertification requirements so they stay on top with the latest advancements in the field.

Where Do Psychiatrists Work?

Psychiatrists work in various settings, providing mental health care to individuals across different demographics and with diverse needs. One primary setting for psychiatrists is hospitals, where they may work in psychiatric units or collaborate with medical teams to address mental health concerns in patients with physical illnesses.

Additionally, psychiatrists often practice in outpatient clinics, where they offer therapy and medication management for individuals with psychiatric disorders. Community mental health centers are another important setting, providing accessible mental health services to underserved populations. Moreover, psychiatrists may be found in correctional facilities, offering mental health assessments and treatment to inmates.

Some psychiatrists may also work in academic institutions, conducting research, teaching medical students, and supervising residents. Overall, psychiatrists have the flexibility to work in diverse environments, ensuring mental health care reaches those in need across various settings.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist involves a significant financial investment. The cost varies depending on the type of medical school attended, geographical location, and individual circumstances. Generally, prospective psychiatrists must complete a bachelor’s degree, which typically involves tuition, fees, and living expenses. On average, in the US, tuition ranges from $20,000 to $50,000 a year. If you add 4 years the costs range from $80,000 to $200,000 excluding books, dorms, and living expenses. 

As students progress to medical school, costs keep going up. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average cost of attending a public medical school (including tuition, fees, and health insurance) for in-state students is approximately $34,592 per year, while out-of-state students pay an average of $58,668 per year. Private medical schools tend to be more expensive, with average annual costs ranging from $61,098 to $63,546. Therefore, the total cost of medical school can range from $138,368 to over $250,000.

In psychiatry the residency program typically lasts 4 years, during which resident doctors receive a salary, though it is much modest compared to licensed physicians. According to the AAMC, the average annual salary for a first-year resident in psychiatry is around $59,300. This salary increases slightly each year of residency. 

Psychiatrist Salary and Job Outlook

In terms of compensation, psychiatrists are typically well-compensated for their expertise and specialized training. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for psychiatrists is $247,350. This salary reflects the value placed on psychiatric care in addressing the complex mental health needs of individuals and communities. 

The job outlook for psychiatrists from 2022 to 2032 is projected to be favorable, with a growth rate of 7%, according to BLS data. This demand is driven by factors such as increasing awareness of mental health issues and the growing need for psychiatric services in various healthcare settings.  

As mental health continues to gain recognition as a crucial component of overall well-being, the demand for psychiatrists is expected to remain strong, offering promising career prospects for those entering the field.


In conclusion, aspiring psychiatrists undergo a rigorous educational journey, from obtaining an undergraduate degree to obtaining a medical license. Though an extensive educational journey, psychiatry is a rewarding career as it offers high compensations while allowing you to positively impact peoples’ lives. 

For those ready to embark on this fulfilling path, the American University of Antigua College of Medicine (AUAMED) provides a supportive environment and top-notch education to help you achieve your goals. Apply to AUAMED today to take the first step towards your career in psychiatry!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is psychiatrist schooling only for medical students?

Yes, psychiatrist schooling is typically designed for medical students. Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in mental health, so they must complete medical school to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. 

What skills are crucial for success in psychiatrist schooling?

Skills crucial for success in psychiatric schooling include strong critical thinking, effective communication, empathy, resilience, and working well in interdisciplinary teams. Psychiatrists also need cultural competence, adaptability, and a commitment to lifelong learning.

Can I become a psychiatrist with a psychology degree?

While a psychology degree provides valuable knowledge, becoming a psychiatrist typically requires completing medical school and residency training in psychiatry. Individuals with a psychology degree may pursue other mental health careers, such as becoming psychologists or counselors.

How does psychiatrist schooling address cultural competence?

Psychiatrist schooling emphasizes cultural sensitivity and awareness through coursework, clinical experiences, and training programs. Psychiatrists learn to recognize and respect cultural differences, understand how culture influences mental health, and adapt their approaches to provide culturally competent care.