Psychiatry Career Outlook: Degrees, Job Growth, and Pay

FT Contributor  | 

Obtaining a career in psychiatry is no easy feat. It takes a ton of time, effort, and money to complete the education and training necessary. Still, there is no doubt that psychiatry can be a very rewarding career with a six-figure salary and the chance to make a real difference in the world.

What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

The study of psychiatry centers around disorders of the mind, as set forth by the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders” (DSM-5).

There are many forms of psychiatry, including specialties such as:

  • Adult psychiatry;
  • Addiction psychiatry;
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry;
  • Forensic psychiatry;
  • Geriatric psychiatry;
  • Neuropsychiatry;
  • Perinatal and infant psychiatry;
  • Psychiatry of intellectual and developmental disabilities;
  • Senior psychiatry;

There are other types of psychiatry, too. A huge part of mental health treatment today is psychotherapy, which can be aided by or substituted for prescribed medication and hospitalization. Consultation-liaison psychiatrists work in conjunction with other specialists to treat mental health issues stemming from or contributing to physical or physiological conditions.

With so many options, you can choose a psychiatric specialty that matters most to you.

What Is the Average Annual Salary of a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist earns an average salary of $202,682, but this can vary depending on what you do and where you work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a breakdown of salary information by occupation for May 2018:

Position Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Offices of Physicians $105.78 $220,010
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals $100.52 $209,080
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $100.42 $208,870
Outpatient Care Centers $116.26 $241,820
Local Government (excluding schools and hospitals) $121.70 $253,140
Home Health Care Services $121.81 $253,370

The BLS data shows Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York as the top three states for the highest concentration of psychiatry jobs, with Hawaii, Connecticut, and Maine as the top-paying states.

How to Become a Psychiatrist

To practice psychiatry, you must be licensed and earn your Doctor of Medicine (MD).

With so many different specialties, however, you will create a custom curriculum plan that includes the right licenses and internships for your concentration. The cost and length of your psychiatry training will depend on the path you choose.

Education

The path to psychiatry requires quite a bit of time and energy through several steps: college, medical school, residency, and finally, a fellowship if your specialty so requires.

Psychiatrists prescribe and manage medication, which is a major reason for the additional education. There are many specialties you can choose from, with concentrations in areas such as forensic psychiatry as well as adolescent and child psychiatry.

To become a licensed psychiatrist, you first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. There are a number of college degrees you can choose from for your bachelor’s program, including areas of study such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

After attending a legitimate four-year college, you will continue to medical school, but first, you have to get accepted. Your bachelor’s GPA will help you get into medical school, as well as your MCAT score. The Association of Medical Colleges administers the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.

Medical school has a very competitive application process, so it’s crucial that you prepare for your MCAT exam and do the very best you can. The average applicant to medical school earned a 3.58 GPA and a 506.1 MCAT score in 2019.

For most students, medical school takes an additional four years to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree. From there, your specialty will determine your next steps.

Training

You may require additional certifications or internships, depending on the specialty you choose. These programs enable students to build their diagnostic skills, while also improving interpersonal skills that will become so crucial throughout their career in psychiatry.

A four-year psychiatric residency, or a clerkship, places a strong focus on the medical side of psychiatry. It includes required hospital training for real-world application of the hard skills and soft skills employers are looking for in psychiatrists today.

Fellowships are designed to work as a short-term, in-depth study, usually lasting only a year with a great focus on supervised clinical work and research.

Licenses

All psychiatrists must hold an active medical license from their state board. To obtain your psychiatric medical license, you will need to successfully pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination.  

Because this is a state licensure, eligibility requirements will depend on the state in which you practice.

Job Outlook in the Field of Psychiatry

When choosing the right job for you, it’s important to consider more than just the pay. There are other factors such as your working environment, job security, and opportunities for growth.

Job Security and Growth

There are approximately 26,000 psychiatry jobs in the United States, with a quickly expanding job market. In fact, there is a greater demand for psychiatrists than there is for doctors, so this is one job field that offers phenomenal growth and job stability.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects a total of 16% job growth from 2018 to 2028.

Work Environment

A psychiatrist does many things on a daily basis, none more critical than to diagnose, treat, and prevent conditions related to mental health. As a psychiatrist, you will also offer counseling and support, handle medication and prescription management, and focuses on a collaborative treatment plan with your entire medical team.

There is a considerable emphasis placed on ongoing research, so psychiatrists regularly participate in research activities such as clinical studies, presenting their findings at conferences and seminars.

Psychiatrists can work in many different environments, such as in a hospital or for a university. For example, working in a private physician’s office may deliver more upscale working facilities than working for the government.

While most have the comfort of their own office, it still can quickly become a hostile work environment depending on your clientele and where you work. If you work in prisons or mental hospitals, you are more likely to encounter more severe cases.

Should I Become a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists have a demanding position with massive levels of responsibility. Hours may be long and irregular, calling for flexibility and patience in your schedule. A great psychiatrist must be able to remain alert and focused for extended periods of time, with a warm demeanor that makes patients feel comfortable. A professional appearance is also important.

Because you will work in stressful situations, it is important to perform with grace under pressure and put others at ease, too. You need to be friendly, intuitive, and competent, but firm and assertive when necessary.

Most importantly, a great psychiatrist feels a strong desire to help other people.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is a fantastic resource for additional information on extra steps. You can also find more information on education requirements through the Association of American Medical Colleges.


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This post was updated January 14, 2020. It was originally published January 14, 2020.