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How to Become a Psychiatrist in 2023

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by Yousmle Staff in Residency

Do you want to know how to become a psychiatrist? Are you interested in a medical career that offers not only patient care but also unique opportunities for medical research in a field experiencing an increase in demand for physicians?

If so, a psychiatry career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what a psychiatrist does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Psychiatrists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.
  • Psychiatry residency training is four years, with the option of fellowship training afterward.
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. But how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more.
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs have no advantage in becoming a psychiatrist (maybe a slight disadvantage)

Table of Contents

What Are Psychiatrists?

Psychiatrists are often misunderstood in the medical field. Many think of them as psychologists. While both psychologists and psychiatrists are specialists in talk therapy, psychiatrists can diagnose mental conditions, prescribe medication, and provide psychotherapy.

Psychiatrists diagnose, treat, and prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They use psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and pharmacological interventions. Psychiatrists must comprehend how biological, psychological, and social variables contribute to mental diseases. In addition, they must diagnose patients, develop individualized treatment plans, as well as track and adjust the treatment as needed.

The goal of psychiatrists is to help patients overcome mental health conditions and lead healthier lives by combining their expertise in mental health, psychotherapy, and pharmacology.

Is a Psychiatrist a Doctor?

Are psychiatrists doctors? This question often comes up as people confuse psychiatrists with psychologists. The answer to this question is yes, psychiatrists are medical doctors.

A psychiatrist is an MD or DO who has completed a four-year residency in psychiatry. Psychiatrists gain experience in a wide variety of clinical settings during residency, including inpatient, outpatient, and emergency departments. Throughout these rotations, they learn how to diagnose and treat a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.

Physician Psychiatrist vs. Psychologists: What’s the Difference?

To assist patients with mental disorders, psychologists use talk therapy. They are not medical professionals and cannot prescribe drugs. Psychologists hold a doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are medical school graduates who have completed a four-year residency in psychiatry. They can diagnose and treat mental disorders using psychotherapy and medication.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Psychiatrist?

Becoming a psychiatrist is no easy feat and requires considerable time and energy. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

It takes at least 12 years after high school to become a psychiatrist. That includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and four years of psychiatry residency. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams, including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming a psychiatrist is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete at least four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Psychiatry Residency (4 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school, you’ll have to match into a psychiatry residency. You’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams to do this. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into a psychiatry residency, you’ll have to complete four years of clinical training to become a psychiatrist. During this period, you’ll learn how to diagnose, treat, and prevent mental conditions. You’ll gain an understanding of mental illness from a psychological and physiological perspective.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1 Year)

Psychiatry residency is often followed by further training in a subspecialty. Psychiatry fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include addictive psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, and pediatric psychiatry.

Most psychiatry fellowships are one year long. During this time, psychiatrists gain experience and hone their skills in a specific area of psychiatry. A child psychiatry fellowship is two years. During the fellowship, you will have time to undertake research. You’ll also gain clinical experience and take part in teaching activities.

After Psychiatry Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license, a requirement for practice. You’ll also be able to take the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology exam to become a board-certified psychiatrist. While passing the psychiatry boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary – for you to be employed as a psychiatrist.

Becoming a psychiatrist takes at least 12 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive Is It to Become a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatry is a less competitive specialty in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is psychiatry in the US? To answer this question, it is important to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t count. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 7.8% unmatched rate in psychiatry. This makes it one of the least competitive specialties, although more competitive than specialties like pathology (unmatched% of 2.6%), neurology (2.3%), or family medicine (2.1%).

For more on the competitiveness of psychiatry relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Psychiatrists Annual Compensation

Psychiatrists have an average annual salary of $287,000. But this can vary based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Psychiatrist Annual Salary

Psychiatrists make $287,000 per year on average

How Much Do Psychiatrists Make an Hour?

You may also wonder, how much do Psychiatrists make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there isn’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including psychiatry.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (psychiatry highlighted in red):

Psychiatrist Hourly Salary

Psychiatrists make $131 an hour on average

Note: When data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was the estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming a Psychiatrist

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students.

AOA is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies. They must also show an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Medical schools may elect up to 20% of their graduating classes as AOA inductees.

Induction into the AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships. They can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is notable in the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 6% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in psychiatry. AOA membership provided a moderate advantage to matching into a psychiatry residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Psychiatry 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 6% match rate advantage for Psychiatry in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become a Psychiatrist?

When pursuing a career in psychiatry, attending a top medical school can make a difference in matching your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.7 out of 5.

Moreover, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 2% increase in the likelihood of matching into psychiatry as a field. This is potentially because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty

That said, it is important to remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Psychiatry match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 2% match rate advantage for Psychiatry in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become a Psychiatrist?

Medical training is long and arduous. Remarkably, many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential psychiatry residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these additional degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In psychiatry, the match rate was 2% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into psychiatry and may even hurt them (slightly).

Psychiatry other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -2% match rate disadvantage for Psychiatry in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school, or the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

The path to becoming a psychiatrist is challenging but rewarding. It is perfect for those who are passionate about helping others overcome mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, psychiatrists can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for a Psychiatry Residency Advisor?

Looking for a psychiatry residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.









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Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.