How to Become a Psychiatrist: Degrees, Careers, and More for 2022

Interested in the human psyche and understanding human behavior? Learn how to become a psychiatrist with this guide!

Almost 1 in 5 Americans struggle with a mental illness, making the field of psychiatry both vital and lucrative. 


A psychiatrist specializes in medical issues in the mental health realm, including traumas, substance abuse, and more. They help diagnose, treat, and prevent various mental health disorders, through various means like medication prescription, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and more. 


A psychiatrist’s day–to-day work consists of meeting and listening to patients to understand their conditions and creating medically informed treatment plans. 


As practicing doctors, psychiatrists often make a substantial income. But it’s not easy to get there — psychiatrist schooling is quite extensive and time-consuming, and psychiatrist qualifications are vast. 


Are you interested in becoming a doctor dedicated to helping people with mental health issues? Keep reading to learn how to become a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist education path, salary information, psychiatrist requirements, and more!


Here are the steps you need to follow if you would like to become a psychiatrist:


  1. Earn a bachelor's degree in a science-related field.
  2. Pass the MCAT
  3. Complete Medical School
  4. Complete a Residency
  5. Gain a Medical License
  6. Become Board-certified


Career Title


Degree Requirements

Degree of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Experience required

Minimum of 4 years



How long to become a psychiatrist

12-14 years

Required Skills

Problem-solving, empathy, emotional resilience, communication, diagnostic, and management skills


How to Become a Psychiatrist: Step-by-Step Guide


1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree in a Science-Related Field

Your first step in how to be a psychiatrist starts with a bachelor’s degree, usually in the sciences. While medical schools don’t have a prescriptive requirement for your undergraduate major (there’s no specific psychiatrist degree), a good rule-of-thumb is to choose a major related to medical science, including pre-med, physical science, psychology, biology, chemistry, neurology, or pharmacology. 

Your bachelor’s degree precedes medical school on the path to becoming a psychiatrist, so you should ensure your undergraduate grades are stellar. Since medical school is so competitive and the MCAT is notoriously difficult, you might consider taking an MCAT prep course. 

Some topics you might cover in your bachelor’s degree include life sciences and cell theory, physical and cognitive development, and ethics. 

2. Pass the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized exam required by all accredited medical schools for prospective students. You usually need a minimum score of 511/528 for medical schools to consider your application. If you don’t want to take the MCAT, your options become limited; however, there is a small number of medical schools that don’t require the MCAT.


3. Complete Medical School (M.D or D.O)

Assuming you scored well on your MCAT, your next step in psychiatrist schooling is medical school. You must complete an M.D program (medical doctor) or D.O program (Doctor of Osteopathy). The cost of med school is usually quite high, so you might want to start looking at financial aid options and scholarships early. 

M.Ds are your typical doctors, focusing on treating specific symptoms of a disease or ailment. D.Os have a more holistic approach in osteopathic medicine, integrating lifestyle and medical ideologies into treatment plans instead of focusing just on symptoms. Your stint in medical school will last you four years, including lectures and labs, as well as clinical clerkships in the final two years where you obtain real-world work experience. 

Some topics you’ll cover in medical school include anatomy, psychology, and pathology.


4. Complete a Residency and Fellowship

Once you graduate from medical school, your next step in obtaining psychiatry qualifications is a residency program. This is a four-year program where med school grads work in the field, spending time diagnosing and treating medical ailments under the supervision of an experienced psychiatrist. Residency programs include real=world work experience, as well as seminars and research. 

After your residency, you might want to explore a subfield specialty. This entails completing a fellowship program that requires more in-depth training. Some fellowship programs include job specialties like:

  • Geriatric Psychiatry: Treating mental and emotional disorders and treatment in the elderly.


  • Forensic Psychiatry: Treating mental and emotional disorders in prisoners, as well as providing psychiatric advice for court cases and other legal purposes.
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Treating mental and emotional disorders and treatment in children and adolescents.
  • Addiction Psychiatry: Treating mental and emotional disorders and treatment in people who struggle with addictions, including substances, gambling, and sex. 


Fellowships range between 1-2 years in length.


5. Get a Medical License 

You’re almost there! After your residency and/or fellowship program, it’s time to get a medical license. Without this, you cannot practice psychiatry or any form of medicine. If you graduated from an MD program, you must take the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). If you graduated from a DO program, you must take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). You must renew your medical license with continuing education credits, for which specific requirements vary in each state.


6. Get Board-Certified

Aspiring psychiatrists must also become certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), which requires taking an exam. Your ABPN certification requires renewal every 10 years, depending on your state of practice.


7. Continue Your Education

Consistent board certification entails taking continuing education credits to remain certified. Psychiatrists have to earn an average of 30 credits per year. Some states require more continuing medical education credits to continue practicing.


How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Psychiatrist?

The psychiatrist education is quite extensive. With a four-year bachelor’s degree and four-year medical school program, you’re already at eight years. Add a four-year residency and possibly a one- or two-year fellowship and you’re looking at between 12-14 years to become a psychiatrist. 


How Much Does it Cost to Become a Psychiatrist?

The psychiatrist education requirements make for a hefty tuition bill (times two!). The average bachelor’s program tuition will cost between $35,572 - $88,812, depending on whether you study at an in-state school. This doesn’t even include the cost of room and board if you live on campus. 

After that, medical school will run you about $54,698 each year, totaling $218,792 by the end of the program. You’ll also face fees for licensing and exams, such as the $320 it costs to write the MCAT. 


What is the Average Salary for a Psychiatrist?

The average psychiatrist salary is $217,100. A relatively stable career field, the BLS estimates a steady 12.5% employment growth from 2020 to 2030. 


Important Skills for a Psychiatrist

To be a good psychiatrist, you need to possess both hard and soft skills. Here are a few for you to consider:

  • Diagnostic Skills: Psychiatry involves interaction with human beings, which itself is a complicated process. It becomes even more challenging when the person is coping with emotional disruptions or even psychosis. Psychiatrists need to be able to take in complex information and analyze it to reach a conclusion. A psychiatrist must be able to understand human biology, psychology, group, and individual social behavior and cultural differences to correctly diagnose a patient’s problems. 
  • Up to Date Pharmaceutical Knowledge: A wide array of drugs are available in the market to treat mental disorders. These drugs range from relatively mild sedatives such as Valium  to heavy-duty drugs such as Thorazine. A psychiatrist must be able to understand the options that are available and be able to prescribe medications to patients. There are constant and ongoing changes in the world of pharmaceuticals and psychiatrists must continually educate themselves about new drugs and treatments.
  • Good Listening Skills: A psychiatrist must employ good listening skills to hear both what the patient says and what they don’t say. Tone, expression, and body language are also things psychiatrists should evaluate while listening to patients. 
  • Empathetic: Psychiatrists must empathize with patients and gain insight into their motivations, difficulties, and sufferings. A psychiatrist must always remember the fine line between empathy and being a friend. Being empathetic helps a psychiatrist be able to determine the right course of action for the patient. 
  • Good Communication Skills: Psychiatrists must communicate with many people daily. In addition to the patient, a psychiatrist may have to talk to a patient’s family members and health care professionals to coordinate a treatment plan for the patient. 


Frequently Asked Questions

    1. Is a Psychiatrist the Same as a Psychologist?

  • No. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor that can prescribe medication. A psychologist works in the mental health field and may perform counseling duties, but isn’t considered a doctor. 

    2. Do Psychiatrists Need a Medical License?

  • Yes, all psychiatrists must obtain a medical license before practicing.

    3. Do Psychiatrists Go to Med School?

  • Yes. Psychiatrists must undergo an extensive post-secondary education that includes medical school and a few years of residency. 

    4. Does it Take 12 Years to Become a Psychiatrist?

  • Yes, it takes about 12 years to become a psychiatrist, from undergraduate studies to medical school, to residency. If you take a fellowship for a subspecialty, like pediatric psychiatry, you will need to tack on another 1-2 years as well. 

    5. What Degree Do You Need to Be a Psychiatrist?

  • You need a bachelor’s degree in the sciences, as well as a medical degree to become a psychiatrist. 



Psychiatry is a complex medical field, and joining requires a significant money and time investment in schooling and residency. Despite the extensive training, a psychiatrist’s career is rewarding because it entails helping people. 

Now that you know how to become a psychiatrist, consider exploring scholarships to make your career dreams a reality!