How to Become a Psychiatrist

Thinking about becoming a psychiatrist? We answer all of your questions about education requirements, growth projections, and salaries.
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James Mielke
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James Mielke writes education and career-focused guides for BestColleges. Beyond higher education topics, his writing has been featured in Golfweek and Eaten Magazine. James has a history degree from Belmont University and is an unapologetic Grateful...
Published on April 25, 2023
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  • You must complete medical school to work as a licensed psychiatrist.
  • Psychiatrists earned a median annual salary of nearly $250,000 in 2021.
  • Plan to spend around 12 years meeting all education and training requirements.

Psychiatrists a play pivotal role in the world of mental health and medicine, earning substantial salaries for their contributions. If you're considering this career path but want to get some questions answered before diving in, you've come to the right place.

Read on to discover the steps you need to take to become a psychiatrist, the jobs awaiting you on the other side, and how much you can expect to earn. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

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5 Steps for Becoming a Psychiatrist

Becoming a psychiatrist isn't for the faint of heart: You must complete at least eight years of education and four years of postdoctoral training before earning a license.

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. Your first step towards becoming a psychiatrist involves earning a four-year degree. Common majors for future psychiatrists include psychology, biology, and chemistry.
  2. Take the MCAT. A good score on the medical college admissions test (MCAT) is your ticket to earning a medical degree, a non-negotiable step in the process.
  3. Earn a medical degree. Whether you decide to pursue a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (OD), your med school training will take four years to complete.
  4. Complete a residency program. Combining both teaching and hands-on application, these experiences allow you to try out different psychiatric subdisciplines across four years.
  5. Earn a medical license. To legally practice, your state's medical board must issue you a license. This usually involves passing an exam.

What Do Psychiatrists Do?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), psychiatrists work with their patients to identify and treat various mental health disorders and psychological conditions.

Many psychiatrists provide a variety of therapies — including talk therapy and psychiatric intervention — and prescribe medications. As a psychiatrist, you can work in private practice, hospitals and clinics, research laboratories, legal systems, academia, and many other settings.

Common Jobs in Psychiatry

  • Child and family psychiatrist
  • Inpatient care psychiatrist
  • Military psychiatrist
  • Addiction and substance use disorder psychiatrist
  • Crisis psychiatrist
  • Forensic psychiatrist

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How Much Will I Make as a Psychiatrist?

As of May 2021, psychiatrists earned a median annual wage of nearly $250,000. While general growth for physicians and surgeons is projected to expand by 3%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates psychiatry jobs will grow by 9% — thanks in part to more people prioritizing their mental health.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021)


Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Outlook (2021-2031)


Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist requires dedication and commitment, so ensure you're ready for a long journey before committing to this career. Most students spend eight years completing undergraduate studies and medical school.

From there, plan to spend four years working through residency rotations. After that, you must prepare for and pass your state's medical licensure examination.

If you know you want to pursue this path, consider enrolling in an accelerated undergraduate degree program. This could shave a year off your timeline.

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Frequently Asked Questions About How to Become a Psychiatrist

What should you major in to become a psychiatrist?

There is no specific major you need to become a psychiatrist, but common choices include psychology, biology, and chemistry. Regardless of your major, you will need to follow a pre-med track to meet certain requirements to apply to med school.

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Both psychologists and psychiatrists work with patients to treat mental health conditions, but only psychiatrists hold medical degrees.

Psychologists, on the other hand, earn doctorates but are not medical doctors. Because of this, only psychiatrists can prescribe medications, even though both offer varied therapies.

Do you need to go to med school to become a psychiatrist?

In short, yes. If you want to work as a psychiatrist, you must go to medical school. All 50 states require you to complete medical school and residency training before you qualify for licensure.

That said, you have options. Most students traditionally pursued an MD, but OD programs have become more common in recent years. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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