Psychiatrist: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in treating mental illness. Learn about the education required, as well as the job duties and employment projections for this career. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are a Psychiatrist's Job Duties?

Diagnosing and treating patients will be your main responsibility. Your work will focus primarily on mental and emotional ailments. Depression, anxiety, psychosis, developmental disabilities and sexual dysfunction are among the conditions you will encounter. Identifying their underlying physical causes, if any, will be a supporting area of emphasis. You will also keep abreast of research on mental disorders to identify new approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis will entail interviewing patients and their family members, conducting assessment tests and conferring with colleagues, other medical professionals, teachers, lawyers and any other parties acquainted with a patient's history. Sometimes you may have to write diagnostic reports for consideration by law enforcement personnel, judges, doctors and school officials. Treatment includes prescribing medication and leading individual, family and group counseling sessions. If you work in a hospital, you will provide direction and instruction to physicians, nurses and other support staff participating in treatment.

Where Do Professionals Work?

You could work out of your own office, at a psychiatric hospital, a general medical hospital, an outpatient care center or for local and state government agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those were the most common employment settings for the approximately 22,690 psychiatrists working in the U.S. as of May 2010 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected that employment of physicians, in general, will increase 22% from 2008-2018.

What Education Do I Need?

You need to obtain a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (M.D. or D.O.) degree and complete at least three years in a psychiatry residency and one year in a residency in psychiatry or a specialty area. To obtain a state license, if you hold an M.D., you need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination. If you hold a D.O., you need to pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam. At your option, you may then attempt to obtain certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology by passing an oral and written exam on the science and clinical practice of psychiatry. Certification in subspecialties is also available if you complete a 1-year fellowship in a subspecialty area.

Residency programs in psychiatry train you to approach the treatment of mental illness as a hybrid of neurology and psychology. They also synthesize concepts from general medicine, pharmacology, biology and biochemistry. A series of clinical rotations provides you with experience in areas including primary care medicine, community psychiatric care, inpatient care, outpatient care and day treatment. The fourth year provides you with opportunities to concentrate on such specialties as addiction, neurophysiology, forensics or geriatrics.

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