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Home > Articles > A Career as a Psychiatrist Offers Rewarding Job Opportunities Helping Others

A Career as a Psychiatrist Offers Rewarding Job Opportunities Helping Others

By Candice Mancini
Published on December 7, 2009.

Job Duties

Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in treating mental health. Like other physicians, psychiatrists fall into two categories: M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). While both M.D.s and D.O.s use evaluative care, drugs, surgery, and all other methods of treatment, D.O.s emphasize the body's musculoskeletal system, preventive medicine, and holistic patient care. So while psychiatrists who are D.O.s prescribe medicine, they might be more willing to exhaust other types of therapy first, including psychotherapy or meditation.

Whatever their means of treatment, psychiatrists evaluate and treat mental illness through the use of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and medication. Through psychotherapy, psychiatrists help their patients to change behavioral problems that are problematic in their lives. Psychiatrists meet with their patients one-on-one or in group or family therapy sessions. Some psychiatrists teach in medical schools or run professional workshops attended by other psychiatrists or related professionals.

Job Skills

Psychiatrists must have high levels of emotional stability and patience. They should be non-judgmental in nature, have the ability to put others at ease, be good listeners, and have a strong desire to help others. In addition, since many psychiatrists work for themselves or otherwise organize their own schedules, they should be highly organized and self-motivated.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for psychiatrists in 2008 was $154,200 annually. Psychiatrists working in nursing homes received the highest mean salary, $192,230 per year, or $92.42 per hour. Psychiatrists working in physicians' offices (including self-employed psychiatrists), represented the highest numbers of employed psychiatrists and earned a mean salary of $144,020, or $69.24 per hour. Income is also determined by geographic location. The highest paying state for psychiatrists is Nevada, followed by Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, and Iowa.

Training and Education

Becoming a physician is a lengthy, demanding process--psychiatrists are no exception. Formal education and training requirements could take from 11 to 16 years. This typically includes 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 to 8 years of internship and residency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 146 medical schools in the United States. Obtaining acceptance to these schools is extremely competitive, and attendance can be very costly.  Consider the possibility of taking classes through a wide variety of online schools for more flexibility and convenience.

In addition to transcripts and test scores, applicants' character, personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities are evaluated to determine acceptance. Post graduation, applying to residency programs is another competitive process, especially in the nation's top hospitals and other psychiatric care facilities. All psychiatrists and other physicians in the U.S. must be licensed in the state they plan to practice. To be licensed, doctors must graduate from an accredited medical school, pass a licensing examination, and complete 1 to 7 years of graduate medical education. Psychiatrists can become certified through The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, The American Psychiatric Association, or related professional organization.


The largest numbers of psychiatrists work in doctor's offices, either on their own or in groups, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The second largest number of psychiatrists work in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, followed by general medical and surgical hospitals and outpatient care centers.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts that employment of all physicians will grow by 14 percent from 2006 to 2016. According to a report by the Graduate Medical Education National Advisory Committee, psychiatry was designated as a shortage specialty and a priority specialty, indicating a positive job outlook for trained psychiatrists.

About the Author
Candice Mancini is a freelance writer and a teacher of AP English literature and college writing. She has an M.A. in Education and a B.A. in English and history.
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