How to Become a Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in treating mental and emotional health. They help people through counseling and medication therapy. Psychiatrists need to go through extensive medical training and education before they start caring for patients.

Here's how to become a psychiatrist:


  1. Earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college or university. No specific major is a prerequisite for a doctor of medicine degree (MD) in psychiatry, but at least two years of chemistry and one year of both physics and biology are required for medical school. Sociology courses are also beneficial to future psychiatrists [Hauser]. Remember to get good grades.
  2. Take the Medical College Admission Test, and be sure to achieve a high score. This test, along with your undergraduate academic record, weighs heavily against being accepted to medical school.
  3. Earn your doctor of medicine degree. Psychiatrists take the same courses as physicians, along with mental health studies.
  4. Become licensed in your state. Before you can practice psychiatry, you must obtain a physician's license from the state in which you will work. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so check out what your state requires. Psychiatrists must also register for a federal narcotics license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. [Psych]
  5. Choose a specialty. Most psychiatrists choose a specific type of patient or disorder to study and treat. Three common specialties are child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry [ABPN].
  6. Complete a four-year residency in your specialty. Residents are doctors working in hospitals and clinics, who receive on-the-job training to develop their skills. The first year of residency is a medical internship, while the last three focus on the chosen specialty.
  7. Obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) in your specialty. Although this isn't required, ABPN certification is a respected credential.