Home Student & Career Tips How to Become a Psychiatrist in the USA

How to Become a Psychiatrist in the USA

This article contains a guide on how to Become a certified psychiatrist in the United States of America.


Psychiatry is a specialized branch of Medicine that focuses on mental health. Psychiatrists diagnose, treat, and help prevent emotional and behavioral disorders such as panic attacks, hallucinations, depression, dementia and bipolar disorder. Therefore, a psychiatrist is a doctor. But rather than tending to physical signs of ill health, they specialize in treating unseen disorders. They are skilled professionals with a strong understanding of the mind and body.

They tend to use such knowledge to assess patients, create care plans and prescribe medication that is peculiar to an individual’s needs.

Psychiatrists can help restore balance, peace and happiness to people’s lives.


A psychiatrist’s working hours basically depends on the place of work. Psychiatrists in private practice often see patients during regular business hours, while psychiatrists working in hospitals often work in shifts. Many psychiatrists make themselves available for emergency consultations outside of regular working hours. Some develop an expertise in working with a specific demographic. This implies that they can specialize in handling cases of either children or the aged, as the case may be. Many psychiatrists work in more than one setting, often including private practice, hospital visits, and outpatient care clinics.

When away from patients, they review treatment protocols and maintain careful and detailed notes on a patient’s progress. Psychiatrists working in medical hospitals routinely consult with other professionals to ensure a patient’s treatment plan is being followed, or to adjust the plan as needed.


Some of the roles of a Psychiatrist include:

  • Assessing your patient’s condition by asking them about their thoughts
  • Getting information from other sources, like GPs, relatives or social workers
  • Suggesting practical ways to stay well
  • Carrying out psychiatric tests,
  • Prescribing medication recommending treatments like counseling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)


Becoming a Psychiatrist is academically rigorous and requires years of training. Basically, you will need to complete the following:

  • A degree in medicine that has been recognized by the General Medical Council (GMS)
  • Foundation medical training
  • Specialized psychiatry training.

1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program

The first step to becoming a psychiatrist is to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. In preparation for medical school, a good choice would be to focus on pre-med, physical sciences or psychology — or a combination of the three.

To date, no U.S. college or university offers a pre-med major, per se.

In lieu of a pre-med track, popular undergraduate majors for would-be psychiatrists include psychology, biology, and chemistry. Academic advisors typically suggest a program with intensive laboratory sessions, relevant internship opportunities, and comprehensive classroom instruction in subjects like human anatomy, the neurological system, and pharmacology.

2. Take the Medical Colleges Admissions Test

Next, students have to sit for the medical college admission test (MCAT). Although medical schools evaluate the merits of a student’s total application, a passing MCAT score is a basic requirement for consideration. Most schools consider a score of 511 points (out of a total of 528 points) to be acceptable

Also, to enter medical school and begin your undergraduate training, you will need at least 5 GCSEs, including English, maths and a science at grade 4/C or above. Three (3) A Levels are also required, including biology, chemistry and either maths or physics.

If you already have a non-medical degree, you can apply for an accelerated medical entry graduate programme (GEP). To be eligible for this, you will need at least a 2:1 in a science-based degree.

3. Foundation Training

Following the completion of your 5-year medical degree or GEP, you will complete a 2-year foundation training programme. This is the first postgraduate training that all medical professionals go through before they specialize in a certain area of medicine. Foundation training offers you the opportunity to put the expertise and skills you have developed as an undergraduate into practice in the real world.

Although you are training all through the two-year foundation programme, you will also be working, which means you will be paid too.

You will complete a number of training posts, each lasting a few months. Throughout the programme, you’ll get experience in a number of different medical specialties, such as GP, Psychiatry or surgery.

You will work in different hospital departments as a junior doctor under the supervision of senior medical professionals. This will give you your first real insight into the realities of a medical career.

4. Specialty Training

After this, you will commence 6 years of specialized psychiatry training. This is where you will choose your psychiatry specialty. This is split into 2 stages: core and higher specialty training.

  • Core Psychiatry Training: During core psychiatry training, you will work and train in a number of different subspecialties within psychiatry. Each placement normally lasts up to 6 months and will allow you to experience different areas of psychiatry before you choose your specialism. This enables you to gain a broad understanding of the specialty. Core training lasts three years, these are referred to as CT1, CT2 and CT3. By the end of CT3, you need to have completed your MRCPsych exam so that you can apply to the next stage of training which is the higher Psychiatry training.
  • Higher Psychiatry Training: Higher Psychiatry Training normally takes three years, known as ST4, ST5 and ST6. During those three years, your training will reflect the sub specialty you have chosen. You will train in child and adolescent, forensic, general adult, old age, psychotherapy or psychiatry of learning disabilities. There will also be opportunities to work in other sub-specialties including: addictions, eating disorders, neuropsychiatry, perinatal and social & rehabilitation psychiatry.

There are 6 main specialty areas to choose from. They include:

  • Forensic Psychiatry: Combining knowledge of psychiatry, criminology and the law, forensic psychiatry focuses on the assessment and treatment of criminals and ex-offenders. This field requires you to balance the needs of individuals with the risk of harm to their family and the criminal justice system.
  • Medical Psychotherapy: This area of psychiatry focuses on psychological and talking treatments to prevent and improve mental health conditions. Here, you will help patients better understand their mental health and the things that trigger poor mental health. Your duties also include helping patients overcome their difficulties; you will contribute a psychological and relationship-based understanding to psychiatric practices.
  • General Psychiatry: General psychiatrists are qualified doctors who assist with the assessment and treatment of people with mental health issues. You will assess people of working age and develop a therapeutic alliance with them to help manage their condition. This involves liaising with other health professionals and mental health services to offer interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy and counseling.
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: You will specialize in working with people under the age of 18 and their families. You will diagnose and treat a range of mental health conditions, including eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Your work will aim to help young people live happier and healthier lives.
  • Old Age Psychiatry: This area focuses on the treatment and care of older people who suffer from mental health disorders, such as dementia and schizophrenia. You will collaborate with general Psychiatry, social services and care-givers to provide a holistic approach to mental health care and will work closely with patients’ families/care-givers.
  • Psychiatry of Intellectual Disability (PID): This aspect of psychiatry focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with learning disabilities. You will also form treatment programmes for people with learning and intellectual difficulties, you will assess and manage neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and ADHD.

Once you have completed your training, you will be awarded your Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT).

This will enter you into the GMC’s specialist register, which will allow you to practice as a psychiatrist. It will also enable you to become a consultant in the psychiatric specialty of your choice.

5. Get Licensed and Board Certified

All states require doctors, including psychiatrists, to obtain a license before they can practice unsupervised. Additionally, psychiatrists must obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Requirements for maintaining and renewing a license vary by state, but most require doctors to earn a minimum number of continuing education credits to maintain the licensure. Renewal conditions of an ABPN certification depend on a psychiatrist’s area of specialty, but are generally required every 10 years

Considering the above stages, you can expect to qualify as a psychiatrist in 13 years from the start of your studies as an undergraduate.


If you haven’t got the A Levels to go to university, your chances of securing a career as a psychiatrist may seem slim. However, it is possible to start your medical training without traditional qualifications with an Access to Higher Education Diploma. As a Level 3 qualification, an Access to Higher Education Diploma is equivalent to A Levels. Therefore, it provides an alternative route into higher education and is accepted by most UK universities.

Perfect for aspiring psychiatrists, the Access to HE Diploma (Medicine and Health Care Professions) equips you with the skills and knowledge to succeed at medical school.

The diploma will also set the foundation for your career as a psychiatrist.

Your Access to HE Diploma can be studied online, which means you can qualify in your own time, in as little as 6 months. However, most students take between 9 and 12 months to complete their studies in preparation for their university training. Following this route brings the time it takes to qualify as a psychiatrist up to 14 years instead of 13 years. Whichever way to choose, the aim is to become a Psychiatrist.


While it is highly important to have the right qualifications, you also need the right skills for a future in psychiatry without hitches.

  • Excellent Communication Skills: As a Psychiatrist, you will need excellent communication and interpersonal skills to be able to treat patients effectively and help them through the assessment stage.
  • Empathy: Living and coming to terms with a mental health condition can be difficult and very challenging. Therefore you will need to empathize with patients and treat them with dignity and respect.
  • Problem Solver: You will need to be good at working in intense environments under pressure and also be a great problem-solver. Having the capacity to think analytical and scientifically is also an essential skill to making informed decisions about patient care.

Other skills:

  • You will also need to collaborate well with other medical professionals, work effectively in a multi-disciplinary team and have good leadership skills to train and motivate others.
  • Above everything though, you need to be emotionally resilient. As a psychiatrist, you will encounter difficult and potentially upsetting situations throughout your career and  as such, you need to adapt quickly and keep your cool in challenging situations.
  • Apart from these essential skills, you will need to continue your learning throughout your career to ensure that your skill set remains strong.
  • Continuing professional development (CPD) is vital if you want to remain on the GMC register and practise as a psychiatrist. You can achieve this by attending lectures and courses, peer-reviewing medical papers and conducting research. So, learning never stops for you.


Accreditation refers to the process of evaluating an institution’s educational programs to determine its quality and adherence to established academic standards. Accreditation is a voluntary process in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the school accreditation process.

Accreditation not only attests to the quality of education, it also plays an important role when applying for student aid. Federal financial assistance is only through accredited institutions. ED and CHEA recognize the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) as the primary accrediting body for medical programs. ACGME accredits institutions, residency and fellowship programs, and specific sub-specialties under general medical practice.

Thus, ensure you enroll into an accredited institution for your programme.


As a Psychiatrist, you could work in a prison, in an NHS or private hospital, at a client’s home or in the community. With experience, you may go on to lead a team, or manage a unit or department. You may also progress to teaching and training students, trainee doctors and other healthcare professionals.

With experience and entry on the General Medical Council (GMC) Specialist Register, you could apply for senior positions.


As seen in the article, it is very glaring that becoming a Psychiatrist is very demanding from ramifications, time and Financial wise. So, inorder to successfully build a career in Psychiatry, you must be willing to go through the due process. As much as it takes a lot to become a Psychiatrist, once completed, it can be a very rewarding and profitable career.

So, if you’re qualified for this career, if you have the patience to work with mentally unstable individuals without grudges and irritation, if you are desirous to understand how the human brain functions, this career might just be for you. It sure promises to be an interesting and adventurous career path.

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