Becoming a Child Psychiatrist: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career in child psychology? Get real job descriptions, along with career outlook and salary info, to see if becoming a child psychiatrist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Child Psychiatrist

Child psychiatrists diagnose and treat children with mental illnesses, which can be both rewarding and challenging. Read these pros and cons to figure out if a career in child psychiatry is right for you.

Pros of Being a Child Psychiatrist
Ability to help children deal with mental trauma and disorders*
Well-paying career (median annual salary of $181,880)*
Flexible schedule*
Research opportunities available*

Cons of Being a Child Psychiatrist
Long, unpredictable hours*
Emotionally stressful career*
Lengthy education process (at least nine years for undergraduate studies, medical school and residency)*
Continuing education needed to keep current in the field*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

Child psychiatrists focus on understanding mental illness and its effects on children and their families. They use a variety of techniques, including psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, to learn about a child's behavior and determine the best treatment options to help that child overcome his or her mental or emotional problems. They also have the ability to administer medication or hospitalize patients to better understand and treat their conditions.

As a child psychiatrist, you'll rely heavily on research findings to learn about the latest in child psychiatry trends. You might be able to work in private practice or at a hospital or community mental health facility. Throughout your career, you'll work directly with young patients and their families, which can be emotionally difficult.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of May 2014, there were approximately 25,000 psychiatrists employed nationwide. Psychiatrists are most commonly employed in physicians' offices, outpatient care facilities and hospitals that focus on substance abuse and psychiatry.

The BLS reported that, as a whole, employment of physicians and surgeons, which include psychiatrists, was expected to grow by 18% between 2012 and 2022. This was faster than the average rate for all occupations. An increased demand for health care services was likely to drive the need for psychiatrists. Psychiatry is a well-paying career, as evidenced by BLS figures. As of May 2014, psychiatrists made an average annual salary of over $182,000.

Education Requirements

You'll need to go through a lot of schooling before you can practice as a child psychiatrist. Along with four years of undergraduate studies, you'll need to complete four years of medical school and anywhere from three to eight years in a residency or internship program. Through your postgraduate training, you'll work with children and teens, putting your medical school lessons to the test in a real-world environment. If you plan to seek voluntary board certification in psychiatry, you'll want to be sure your residency is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

Licensure Information

Once you've finished medical school, you'll need to become licensed in the state where you want to practice. Requirements vary by state, but you'll likely have to show proof of graduation from medical school and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers tend to seek child psychiatrists who are both licensed and board-certified. Some employers also prefer candidates who have real-world experience. Following is a sampling of jobs posted with the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in March 2012:

  • A health care provider in Colorado was seeking a child psychiatrist who could work with a team to develop intervention and treatment options for children. The position was geared toward child psychiatrists who already had experience counseling people with mental illnesses.
  • A children's hospital in Florida was looking for a child psychiatrist who could provide outpatient care for children with acute and chronic medical and mental illnesses. Applicants needed to have an understanding of autism, anxiety and depression and how they affect children. The job might had the potential for research and teaching opportunities.
  • A community health facility in Massachusetts sought a child psychiatrist who could oversee and provide outpatient, hospital-based and inpatient treatment for young patients. The position required applicants to work with a team of health care providers to address patients' mental needs.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Earn Certification

After completing your residency, you can apply for voluntary board certification in general psychiatry through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). ABPN also offers subspecialty certification in child and adolescent psychiatry. To qualify for the latter, you must have completed an ACGME-accredited residency in child and adolescent psychiatry, in addition to meeting residency requirements for general psychiatry certification.

Both general and subspecialty certifications require passage of written and oral exams. To maintain certification, you must meet various requirements, including passing a cognitive exam every ten years.

Stay Current

As a child psychiatrist, you'll need to stay current with trends and research on treating children with mental illnesses. To stand out in the field, you might consider attending workshops and conferences held by organizations like the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. This can give you the opportunity to confer with child psychiatrists from across the country, present research and address challenges in the field. You might also want to take part in postgraduate training.

Alternative Career Paths


If you want to work with people in need, including children, but don't want to earn a medical degree, you could become a psychologist. In this role, you'll have to earn a doctoral degree and be licensed to practice, but - in most states - you won't be able to prescribe medications. Psychologists commonly work in schools, private practices, hospitals and other community health-based facilities. The BLS found that psychologists earned an average annual salary of $73,000 as of May 2011. As with psychiatrists, employment opportunities for psychologists were expected to grow, with the BLS projecting a 22% increase in employment between 2010 and 2020.


If you're looking for a career that doesn't require medical school or a doctoral degree, you might consider becoming a counselor. There are many types of counselors, including those who work with schools, nonprofit organizations or hospitals. You'll have the option to specialize in a specific field of counseling, whether it's working with children, substance abusers or couples and families. According to the BLS, there were about 244,560 educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors working in the U.S. as of 2011. These counselors earned an average annual salary of over $56,000 as of May 2011.

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