Psychiatrist Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A psychiatrist's average annual salary is about $183,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a psychiatrist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Psychiatrist Career

A psychiatrist is a specialized type of medical doctor. You can help others lead better lives by resolving mental and emotional issues, but you might be working with devastating illnesses and in the often-hectic environment of healthcare facilities. Read below about some of the pros and cons of being a psychiatrist to help decide if this job is for you.

PROS of a Psychiatrist Career
Self-employment opportunities*
High earning potential ($182,700 average annual salary in May 2014)*
Faster-than-average job growth (18% increase expected for all physicians and surgeons from 2012 to 2022)*
Very good job prospects, especially in low-income and rural areas*

CONS of a Psychiatrist Career
Lengthy educational process (medical school plus residency)*
Debt can build up from educational expenses (85% of public graduates and 86% of private graduates were in financial debt after graduation in 2007)*
Irregular hours are common (night, evening, weekend and holiday shifts)*
Overtime can be required (in 2008, 43% of physicians worked more than 50 hours a week)*
Admission to medical school is competitive*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

Psychiatrists examine patients and treat mental, behavioral and emotional illnesses, including stress, schizophrenia, sexual identity issues and anxiety. Treatment is holistic, requiring the psychiatrist to have knowledge of biological, social and psychological factors that lead to particular maladies.

As a psychiatrist, you would talk with patients about any issues or problems that are occurring to discern patterns in thought or behavior. In order to help you assess and resolve your patients' problem, you may administer diagnostic medical tests. You'll work with other medical professionals, such as social workers and psychologists, to create the most appropriate treatment plans. At times, you may work with patients through group or family sessions. You can employ treatment techniques like hospitalization, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. If a chemical imbalance is occurring, you can prescribe medication to help fix the emotional turmoil.

Specialization Paths

Psychiatrists may focus on particular age groups or types of disorders. Subspecialties within psychiatry include child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, clinical neurophysiology, psychosomatic medicine, addiction psychiatry, pain management and forensic psychiatry.

Salary Information

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the average hourly wage for psychiatrists was $87.84, and the average yearly salary was $182,700. The top-paying industries were home health care services, state governments, and community relief organizations. The states that paid psychiatrists the most in this time period were Wyoming, Alaska, Indiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Job Requirements

Necessary Education

The education process to become a psychiatrist is a lengthy one, according to the BLS. After completing four years of undergraduate school and acquiring a bachelor's degree in any subject, you'll need to enter medical school, which typically lasts another four years. In the first two years, you take classes like medical ethics, biochemistry, pharmacology and psychology. The last two years are characterized by clinical rotations, which include training in psychiatry, internal medicine and surgery. Afterwards, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports you'll have to complete a residency program that lasts another four years; if you choose a subspecialty, an additional two years of training is required.

In some cases, per the BLS, there are combined programs offered by medical schools that can reduce your educational requirements by a year or two. Residencies involve didactic courses, clinical rounds, specialty seminars and research components. Topics studied include consultation practices, emergency care, multicultural psychiatry and psychopharmacology. You can learn various therapy techniques, such as hypnotherapy, cognitive psychotherapy and family therapy. Original research opportunities are also available; you might investigate mood disorders, genetic factors leading to psychiatric problems, alcohol dependency or neuropsychoendocrinology.

Licensure

Since a psychiatrist is a doctor who can issue medicine, a license is required in order to practice. You can acquire licensure by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. It is important to check if there are any special stipulations or requirements for licensure in the state you plan on seeking employment.

Completing continuing education courses or otherwise proving continued professional competency is necessary to maintain licensure status. Check your state's medical board for specific details on lifelong learning requirements.

Useful Skills

The BLS indicates that psychiatrists, and all physicians, need to be committed to helping others. The educational process leading up to becoming a psychiatrist is intense, so you must be able to handle the pressure and commitment of being a doctor. Possessing emotional stability and being quick to react in an emergency situation are two other relevant skills.

What Employers Are Looking For

All employers require psychiatrists to possess a medical degree and state license, but some also look for psychiatrists who are board certified. Job postings also indicated that psychiatrists would need to be willing to participate in committees. Take a look at what real employers were requesting in job postings from March 2012:

  • In Texas, a correctional facility requested a psychiatrist with writing, interpersonal and computer skills and preferred someone with five years of clinical psychiatry experience. The job involves designing treatment plans and approving discharges.
  • A psychiatrist opening in Pennsylvania for a healthcare services company required someone to work as part of an administrative committee. The candidate would be primarily working with patients with mental health or developmental disorders.
  • A health provider in New Jersey wanted a psychiatrist with his or her own professional liability insurance and who is familiar with an outpatient setting. The target patient groups are children and their families.
  • In California, a commerce clinic was looking for a psychiatrist with a controlled substance registration certificate and a desire to work with children, adolescents and adults.
  • A position in Missouri at an army community hospital called for a psychiatrist who has at least two years of experience as a licensed professional. Military personnel and their families are the main types of patients treated.

How Can I Stand Out?

Earning voluntary board certification demonstrates to employers and prospective patients that you have expert knowledge, and job postings indicate some employers prefer to hire board-certified psychiatrists. Through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. (ABPN), you can earn general certification in psychiatry as well as certification in subspecialties. Once you've passed the exam(s) and become certified, you're not finished with your education. Lifelong learning is required to maintain certification, and you must keep abreast of what's new in the field through the ABPN's Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program.

Alternative Career Choices

If you're interested in a mental health career, but the education requirements to become a psychiatrist are just too much for you, you can look into becoming a counselor. Mental health counselors work with groups, families and individuals to treat emotional and mental issues. They may address problems like anxiety, addiction, stress, trauma and depression. A master's degree and a state license are normally required to become a mental health counselor. The average income of a mental health counselor was $43,990 in May 2014, according to the BLS.

If you like the work a psychiatrist does but you don't want to pursue a medical education, you could become a clinical psychologist instead. A Ph.D. or Psy.D. is the typical education requirement. Similar to a psychiatrist, you would uses scientific methods and empathetic counseling to help patients overcome certain issues and problems, like depression or drug addiction. You wouldn't be able to prescribe medicine, though you may work with psychiatrists or other medical doctors who can. Alternatively, you may focus on research or teaching. On average, clinical, counseling and school psychologists made about $74,030 yearly as of May 2014, as reported by the BLS.

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