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

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Deciding on a rewarding and long-term career can be challenging. You might wonder whether the job will bring happiness, financial stability, or a significant amount of hard work.  

The mental health industry offers many career paths to choose from. Psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, licensed social workers, and other professionals provide care to patients in various contexts. If you have felt the desire to help others psychologically, you may have wondered what a career as a psychiatrist might look like. To decide whether psychiatry is for you, looking at the educational and occupational requirements of this career path can be helpful.

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How do psychiatrists treat mental health disorders? 

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who are also medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs). Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to diagnosing, preventing, and treating mental health disorders.

Psychiatrists are not psychologists. While both types of professionals are licensed to treat mental illness, psychiatrists require more schooling. They are medical doctors, unlike those with a master's or doctorate. For this reason, they must go through medical school, take board exams, and complete a successful residency. In addition, psychiatrists can prescribe medication, which psychologists cannot do. As doctors, they make a significant amount more than most psychologists. 

Becoming a psychiatrist

There are five steps you must take before being able to practice as a psychiatrist, including the following. 

Initial education requirements 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 12 years of education are required following high school to become a psychiatrist (14 for those who want to practice child and adolescent psychiatry). Upon completion of high school, you must obtain a bachelor's degree. A science degree or pre-med path may be the most beneficial for your undergraduate degree. Taking a pre-med course can put you on track for medical school. 

Courses that can prepare you for medical school, such as chemistry, math, physics, and biology, may be crucial to take in your first four years to meet later requirements and ensure you have experience. Getting involved in the medical field as early as possible can also be a strategic move. For example, you can volunteer or work at a hospital or a clinic to gain hands-on experience. 

Toward the end of your college career, med schools require the MCAT, a standardized entrance exam like the high school SAT and ACT exams. 

Medical school

After college, the next four years of prep are devoted to medical school. You earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree upon graduating from medical school. Medical school courses are the same for all medical students in the beginning, but you may be able to specialize in psychiatry throughout your studies. At the end of school, you'll apply for residency and choose your area of focus. 


After graduating from medical school, newly graduated doctors complete residency at a clinic or a hospital. Most residency programs last four years and help doctors specialize in their chosen field, though they may also offer broad training for other disciplines. 

You begin your residency learning general practices but can study under a psychiatrist at your institution. Other doctors supervise you, and you may begin to treat the mental health conditions you may encounter when you break off to practice independently. 


Each state has medical boards and licensure requirements doctors must meet to obtain their licenses. To become a licensed psychiatrist, you must finish your residency and take your state's medical examinations. 


In the United States, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology works with some psychiatrists and neurologists. Becoming certified through this board is a way to show your patients your expertise and increase employment opportunities. To remain on the board, you may be required to take continued education courses or participate in training to stay current on the best practices for your patients.

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What is a career in psychiatry like? 

Once you've done the work to become a psychiatrist, the next step is finding a job and beginning the next chapter in your career. You may expect to spend some time working with patients to find medications that treat symptoms. However, you may also offer psychotherapy (though most psychiatrists do not conduct talk therapy while treating patients) or work with other psychiatrists to conduct research. 

As a psychiatrist, you'll specialize in the physical brain and how it interacts with behavior. Your training can prepare you to analyze a patient's health history, risks, and potential responses to treatment. You might diagnose mental health disorders, help your clients understand their symptoms, and prescribe medication. 

There are several core competencies a psychiatrist typically must develop to care for patients effectively. According to the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, these include professionalism, medical knowledge, communication skills, and the ability to evaluate clients comprehensively. 

The demand for psychiatrists is high, second to general care practitioners. Many areas lack knowledgeable and trained psychiatrists who can support patients. As a psychiatrist, there may be many options for work, whether you decide to open your own practice or work in a hospital or clinic.

Where do psychiatrists work?

Psychiatrists can perform widely varying duties in an array of settings. The following are a few of the arenas in which a psychiatrist may treat patients, conduct research, or otherwise utilize their knowledge and experience. 

Non-public practice

Non-public practice psychiatrists are self-employed, as opposed to being part of a clinic or other organization. When a psychiatrist works for themselves, they often have more autonomy in selecting which disorders to address, determining how many patients to take on, and making other important decisions. Some non-public practice psychiatrists work with varied mental illnesses and populations, while others specialize.   

Psychiatric hospitals

Professionals trained in emergency psychiatry, rehabilitation psychiatry, and other areas may work in a psychiatric hospital. An emergency psychiatrist can help individuals experiencing mental health challenges that may be life threatening. In addition to concerns related to mental health, issues related to physical health can arise in those admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Because they are trained physicians and mental health professionals, psychiatrists working in hospitals can assess how a physical illness may influence mental health challenges, and vice versa. 

Psychiatrists also work in rehabilitation programs at hospitals. At rehabilitation centers, professionals can help people address impaired functioning caused by mental health disorders, intellectual disabilities, substance use concerns, and other challenges.  

Government agencies

Psychiatrists are often employed in court systems, correctional facilities, police forces, and several other types of government agencies. These professionals may provide care for inmates in prison, evaluate individuals prior to trial, or develop treatment plans for law enforcement officers experiencing trauma.  

Assisted living facilities

Nursing homes, hospice programs, and other care facilities often need geriatric psychiatrists and other professionals. Psychiatrists at assisted living facilities can treat mental illnesses or other challenges (e.g., mental health concerns related to chronic pain) in the elderly. Several different types of providers may work in care facilities. In addition to geriatric psychiatrists, specialists in rehabilitation psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, and certain mental health disorders may practice psychiatry at these facilities. 

How much do psychiatrists make?

Salary may be a vital aspect of a career path for some, especially because becoming a psychiatrist requires extensive schooling and preparation. Psychiatrists are often paid higher than other mental health professionals due to being doctors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for a psychiatrist in 2023 is $120.08, and the mean annual wage is $249,760.

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Discovering your career options 

Deciding your career can be up to you and the level of commitment you want to put into a future job. Overall, from the beginning of school to the end of residency, some psychiatrists spend about 12 to 14 years studying. Still, the ability to help those experiencing mental health disorders can be advantageous. As you navigate the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a psychiatrist, you might find it helpful to seek the advice of a mental health professional like a career counselor. 

If you have a busy schedule and struggle to find time for an in-person meeting with a professional, you can also try online career counseling through a platform like BetterHelp. Because you can speak with a therapist from the comfort of your home, you can save yourself the time, money, and effort that often goes into pursuing traditional counseling options.

Studies back up the effectiveness of online counseling in treating various challenges. One study analyzing the efficacy of online therapy in reducing psychological distress among university students found that the treatment can produce noticeable improvements in symptoms. A counselor can guide you if you are experiencing stress surrounding your career options, schooling, or schedule.


Becoming a psychiatrist can be a complicated process. However, many find the salary and job fulfillment beneficial. Understanding the various requirements to become a psychiatrist can help you decide whether this career suits your goals. If you continue to struggle to decide, you can also reach out to a career counselor any time online or in your area for further support.
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