How to Become a Psychiatrist by Studying in the USA

How to Become a Psychiatrist by Studying in the USA

By Ginger Abbot

Everyone wants their career to be fulfilling, so many people aspire to become psychiatrists. You could spend decades helping people who struggle with their mental health and emotional diagnoses. Before reaching patients in need, you’ll have to learn how to become a psychiatrist. Use this guide to plan your academic future and figure out what you’ll need to launch your career.

1.Understand the Psychiatry Field

Learning more about the profession is the first step in figuring out how to pursue a career in psychiatry. Many people confuse psychiatrists with psychologists. They both treat people with mental health conditions, but they have different forms of training and education.

Psychiatrists get a medical degree and pursue advanced qualifications through the steps listed below. They might prescribe treatments through medication, light therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy, depending on the client. Psychologists spend years earning a PhD or PsyD and use talk therapy to assist clients.

2. Find the Right University

Every psychiatrist needs to earn a bachelor’s degree in pre-med studies from their university of choice. Schedule campus tours to get a feel for schools in person and compare the top-ranking universities to weigh your options.

Their application processes and requirements will vary, so consider your current GPA, test scores, and financial aid needs before ranking your preferred schools. Apply to as many as possible to increase your chances of getting into your favorite universities.

3. Prepare for Course Subjects

Pre-med studies prepare students for a vast possibility of careers within the scientific field. You’ll study core classes like biology, chemistry, physics, and biochemistry. You’ll also take math, statistics, sociology, and psychology.

Studying to become a psychiatrist requires more than a few years in psychology lectures. Prepare to commit to these prerequisites before training in classes tailored to your professional interests. If you wouldn’t enjoy most of those subjects, you may need to reconsider your education or career.

4. Refresh Your Study Skills

You’ll need to learn a heavy amount of course material to graduate with a pre-med studies degree. Many students spend numerous hours in the library during the evening and on weekends just to stay on track. Refresh your study skills before entering your bachelor’s degree program. If you know your favorite study methods and have a routine, you’ll handle your coursework much more easily.

5. Take the Medical College Admission Test

After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll have to apply for medical school. You’ll need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). It’s a required part of the med school admissions process and can stand in place of scores from other standardized tests. The exam covers subjects like biochemistry and the psychological foundations of behavior.

While figuring out how to pursue a career in psychiatry, read about other students’ experiences with taking the MCAT. You’ll learn how they studied to succeed, what the test was like, and what to expect when it’s your turn to take it after graduation.

6. Finish Your Residency

If you pass the MCAT, you’ll enter medical school and earn a degree that gives you a comprehensive knowledge of physical and mental conditions. They often overlap, which helps psychiatrists recognize specific symptoms and provide the most accurate diagnoses and treatments.

There are numerous exams you’ll have to pass to graduate from med school. One is the Psychiatry Shelf Exam, which you’ll take at the end of your third year. Many students excel at this exam by utilizing online resources and study materials like videos and question banks.

Using new tools and a different studying method will help you pass the exam the first time and save you from repeated attempts.

Students can’t specialize in psychiatry until after completing four years of med school. After graduation, you’ll start a four-year psychiatry residency that gives you on-the-job experience with diagnosing illnesses and participating in treatments.

7. Complete a Fellowship

Some psychiatry careers require a subspecialty fellowship. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) classifies the psychiatric subspecialties into 10 groups, including additions and youth psychiatry. Finish your residency and sign up for a fellowship within the specialty you prefer. They typically last for around one year and involve clinical work as well as courses, research projects and case conferences.

8. Get Licensed and Certified

Every practicing physician needs to obtain a medical license from their state. Every state has different rules for licensure, so research where you live or plan to move after your fellowship. It may take some time for the board to process your application, resume, referrals, and other credentials. Learn what you need to submit and how long it may take in your state to determine when you can start applying for jobs.

You can also look into board certification. You don’t have to get this if you have a medical license, but it can put you ahead of other applicants upon entering the job field.

Learn How to Become a Psychiatrist

Becoming a psychiatrist requires an extensive education and plenty of passion. You’ll spend four years in undergraduate studies, four years in med school and another four years in residency before reaching your first patients, but then you’ll spend a lifetime helping others. Use these steps to figure out your path forward and evaluate if this is something you want to commit to for your career.

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Ginger Abbot is a lifestyle, learning, and career writer with a passion for studying abroad. Read more of her work on

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