What you need to know
Psychiatrists are physicians who diagnose, treat, and help prevent disorders of the mind.
Many psychiatrists work long hours and may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. While on call, they may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.
Some of the things a psychiatrist might do:
- Take a patient’s medical history
- Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments
- Diagnose and treat mental illnesses through personal counseling or psychoanalysis
- Order tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform
- Review test results to identify any abnormal findings
- Recommend and design a plan of treatment
- Help patients find solutions through changes in their behavioral patterns, explorations of their past experiences, or group and family therapy sessions.
- Prescribe medications to correct chemical imbalances that cause some mental illnesses
- Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being
- Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene
- Communication skills: Psychiatrists need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.
- Compassion: Patients who are sick or injured may be in extreme pain or distress. Psychiatrists must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
- Detail oriented: Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Psychiatrists must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
- Leadership skills: Psychiatrists who work in their own practice must manage a staff of other professionals.
- Organizational skills: Good record-keeping and other organizational skills are critical in both medical and business settings.
- Patience. Psychiatrists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention: Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.
- Problem-solving skills: Psychiatrists need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.
The average pay for psychiatrists in the United States is approximately $287,000 according to an annual Medscape survey in 2021.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of psychiatrists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.
Prospects should be especially good for psychiatrists who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas, because these areas tend to have difficulty attracting physicians.
Psychiatrists typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.
Medical schools are highly competitive. Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.
Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine. They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.
During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. Through rotations, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.