How Much Do Psychiatrists Make? Career Path, Educational Requirements, And Occupational Expectations

By Joanna Smykowski

Updated October 03, 2019

Reviewer Melinda Santa

Deciding what career you will spend the rest of your life doing is a big decision. It is important to think of all of the aspects surrounding that career choice when you're figuring out what you want to do. Will this job make you happy? How to get there? How much schooling do you need? What classes do you need to take? What kind of certifications do you have to have?

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Once you obtain the foundation for a career, the next step is figuring out your occupational expectations. What is the demand for the job I am pursuing? Can I get this job anywhere or should I move to a specific city? How much money will I be making?

The mental health world is a vast one, with a lot of different options within it career wise. If you have ever felt the desire to help others in the mental health field, then being a psychiatrist might be the right career path to choose.

As with any profession, it is important to know certain details before going into it. Here we will delve into need-to-know facts about a psychiatrist and the questions that need to be asked and answered. What exactly do you do as a psychiatrist? What degrees and certifications do you need? What should you expect in your day to day life? And of course, how much money you will be making.

What Does A Psychiatrist Do?

First and foremost, psychiatrists are mental health professionals. Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders.

Mental disorders can be split into a variety of categories, including:

  1. Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder
  2. Anxiety disorders, such as any type of phobia, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
  3. Personality disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder
  4. Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia
  5. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia

The awareness and treatment of mental health disorders are different now than it was decades ago. Decades ago there was a stigma surrounding mental health, and a lot of mistreatment for patients. Today, the public understands that mental health is as important as your physical health, and people are more likely to seek treatment. Becoming a psychiatrist is a way to contribute and help in the mental health field with patients.

Psychiatrists are not to be confused with psychologists. While they are both licensed to help in the mental health field, psychiatrists require more schooling. They are medical doctors, versus those with a Master's or a doctorate, and have to go through medical school, take different board exams, and they can prescribe medication. They also have varying salaries. All of these aspects are factors to consider as you decide which profession to pursue.

How Do I Become A Psychiatrist?

If you decide that this is the career path for you, there are five major steps you must complete before you can become a licensed psychiatrist and you can practice on your own:

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  1. College: upon completion of high school, you must obtain a bachelor's degree. For your undergraduate degree, a science degree or pre-med path is the most beneficial. This way, you are on track for medical school, and it is easier to get accepted due to the preparation you put forth in your undergraduate years. Courses that will prepare you for medical schools, such as chemistry, math, physics, and biology, are crucial to take in your first four years so help meet medical school requirements. Getting involved in the medical field as early as possible is a good strategic move. You can volunteer at a hospital or a clinic to gain hands-on experience, as well as show your future medical school and placements that you are preparing for what lies ahead. Towards the end of your college career, med schools usually require taking the MCAT, a standardized entrance exam similar to the high school SAT/ACT exam. The score you obtain on your MCATs in addition to your college GPA and the activities you were involved in during undergrad is part of your resume for med school acceptance.
  2. Medical School: after college, the next four years are devoted to medical school. After four years, you will earn either you Doctor of Medicine, M.D., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, D.O., degree. Medical school goes through various courses to become a doctor, such as pharmacology, psychology, and medical laws. There are lectures and labs, and after four years you will be a doctor. In med school, you are equipped with basic skills, practices, knowledge, and behavior to become a physician. Your specialty will get chosen a post-medical school and when you choose your residency.
  3. Residency: after graduating from medical school, newly graduated doctors complete a residency at a clinic or a hospital. Most residency programs last four years and help doctors specialize in what they will want to focus on professionally, even though it also gives broad training for other disciplines. You begin your residency learning the general practices and every specialty, and you end by choosing what you want to focus and specialize in. You are supervised throughout by other doctors, and you begin to treat many of the mental health disorders in patients that you will come across when you eventually break off to practice on your own. Having a supervising doctor gives you a professional mentor and training that allows you to have the tools to help diagnose and treat patients later on.
  4. License: each state has its medical boards that doctors must adhere to in regards to obtaining their license. Each state has an exam that you will need to pass to become a licensed psychiatrist.
  5. Boards: In the United States, there is the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and becoming board certified is a way to show your patients your expertise, as well as increase employment opportunities. Board certification is valid for ten years, and you must maintain good standing and in active practice. Also, you must take continuing education courses to stay current on the best practices for your patients.

What Can I Expect?

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Now that you are a psychiatrist, the next step is finding a job and beginning the next chapter in your career. Occupational expectations are standard and should be realistic. As a medical doctor, you have a broader range of options to utilize to treat patients. This is in comparison to psychologists, who can only use therapy are part of their treatment, as they are not medical doctors. As a psychiatrist, you can use therapy as well to treat patients, but you also have the options of using medication and, if needed, hospitalization to treat the various mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders.

As a psychiatrist, you specialize in the physical brain itself and how it interacts with behavior to create a personality. You are able and equipped to rule out any kind of medical case of a symptom before making a diagnosis, thanks to the general residency training received before specializing. You have a larger view of the body and how it works with the mind, especially when patient symptoms of their mental health disorders lead to physical ailments.

According to a recent study done by Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives[1], the demand for psychiatrists is at an all-time high, coming in only second tog general care practitioners. The federal government deemed thousands of counties in the nation as Health Professional Shortage Areas, with many having no psychiatrist in the county to treat anyone who may need. This means that as a psychiatrist, there should hopefully be many options for work, whether you decide to open up your private practice or work in a place such as a hospital or a clinic.

How Much Do Psychiatrists Make?

Salary is an important aspect of a career path. Your income is part of how you be able to live, pay od debt, and enjoy luxuries, especially if you have put yourself through an arduous process to get where you are. Psychiatrists, as doctors, are making higher-end salaries. According to the May 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the mean hourly wage for a psychiatrist[2] is $103.89, and the mean annual wage is $216,090.

Is This Job Right For Me?

Ultimately, you have to decide if becoming a psychiatrist is the correct career path for you. It involves a lot of schooling and years of residency and clinical afterward, as well as the boards. You become a doctor, versus stopping at your Master's degree or before for other career paths. You can do a lot to help patients - while talk therapy is great on its own for some patients, as a psychiatrist, you can prescribe medication to other patients in need as you determine how the brain and personality interact with each other.

You also have the option of working in a hospital or clinic, or opening up your private practice where you can work with mental health professionals with other specialties that may not be able to prescribe medication as you can.

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Lastly, you are bringing in a much higher salary than many other career choices. As a doctor, your median salary is over $200,000, while median household income in the United States rests at around $61,000, according to the 2017 report published by the United States Census Bureau. [3]

[1] https://www.amnhealthcare.com/high-demand-for-psychiatrists/

[2] https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes291066.htm

[3] https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.html


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