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What Degree Do You Need to Be a Psy­chi­a­trist? How to become a psy­chi­a­trist

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatry focuses on diagnosing, treating and preventing mental health issues. A psychiatrist will encounter a large variety of cases, including emotional, behavioral and mental disorders. An aspiring psychiatrist should be passionate about helping others through their mental health issues and willing to educate themselves on a large variety of medical conditions and scientific subjects.

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What Subjects Does a Psychiatrist Need To Study?

A psychiatrist will need to have various skills and extensive knowledge to treat and diagnose such a wide spectrum of patients. To study psychiatry, you will need to prepare for a few key content areas.


One of the most significant prerequisites for a psychiatrist is chemistry. A large percentage of what a psychiatrist does involves understanding biological chemistry. Brain chemistry plays a crucial role in mental health and understanding the causes of various medical disorders. Particularly when prescribing medication, you will need to understand how medications will influence brain chemistry and, thus, overall mental health.


As a psychiatrist, you will need to understand how mental health conditions and behavior can be influenced by a person’s psychology. Having a background in psychology will allow you to make more informed decisions when developing treatment plans for your future patients. Psychology is also often broken down by age groups or demographics. Psychology courses will likely help you narrow down which population you would most like to work with.


Psychiatry is an ever-evolving field, so psychiatrists are constantly reading new literature and scientific studies to determine best practices. Therefore, it will be crucial to understand mathematical concepts like statistics, probability, and data interpretation so that you can keep up with the latest data and scientific findings.

Since psychiatry is a medical-focused field, you will need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as you apply for post-graduate schools. Understanding each of these subjects will put you well on your way to obtaining a good score on the test. However, keep in mind that having a wide range of knowledge is also helpful, so do not be afraid to take classes that are interesting to you, even if they do not directly contribute to your major.

What Degree Does a Psychiatrist Need?

The pathway to becoming a psychiatrist may differ slightly for everyone, but there are some key qualifications that almost everyone will need to achieve. The end result is what matters most. In order to practice psychiatry, an individual must have a doctorate. Because a psychiatrist is responsible for diagnosis, treatment and prescribing medication, they must meet high standards and accomplish several requirements.

Undergraduate Degree

You are not required to have a specific undergraduate degree in order to become a psychiatrist. However, certain programs and degree pathways can make you more likely to get into med school. For example, because of its focus on mental health, majoring or minoring in psychology is a good idea. Other schools offer tailored pre-med programs. Ultimately though, you should consider the medical schools you are interested in and study their entrance requirements.

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Post-Graduate Degree

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, aspiring psychiatrists will need to apply to medical school. To do so, you will need to take the MCAT and meet certain criteria. Every school will have its own requirements for grade point average and test scores.

Once you are accepted into medical school, you can pursue either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. MDs focus on treatment that uses pharmaceuticals, radiation or other conventional practices. Meanwhile, DOs take a more holistic approach to treatment, focusing on the mind and the body. Throughout your four years in medical school, you will take much more specified classes relating to the human body, medical ethics, pharmacology and more.

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What Licenses Does a Psychiatrist Need?

Licensure requirements for psychiatrists will differ by state. However, all psychiatrists must have a medical license before they can practice. The first step toward licensure is completing a residency. A residency is typically a four-year program and involves hands-on experience working in hospitals and clinics with supervision from licensed psychiatrists.

The most significant difference between state requirements is when a psychiatrist can apply for a license. In some states, aspiring psychiatrists must complete your entire residency program before applying, while others allow you to apply during your residency.

Regardless of their state of residency, all psychiatrists must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. This exam has three steps and assesses one’s ability to provide informed and effective patient care.

What Is the Expected Pay for a Psychiatrist?

Because of its demand, psychiatry is a relatively lucrative profession. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for psychiatrists was $217,100. The highest-paid psychiatrists made a mean annual wage of $249,260, while the lowest 10 percent of psychiatrists made $69,470.

What Are Potential Career Paths for a Psychiatrist?

Multiple industries employ psychiatrists. The largest employers of psychiatrists are physicians’ offices. Some of the other most common sectors are psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, general hospitals, outpatient care centers, and state government. A psychiatrist can also practice in a wide range of fields. Whether you are passionate about pediatric psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, military psychiatry or another field, you can find a way to practice in your preferred specialty area.

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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?