Pros and Cons of a Career in Psychopharmacology
A career as a psychopharmacologist can be a comfortable and rewarding way to make a living. Keep reading to find out more of the pros and cons of being a psychopharmacologist and see if it could be the right career move for you.
|Pros of a Psychopharmacologist Career|
|High salaries possible (average annual wage of physicians was about $189,000 in May 2014, while psychiatrists made an average salary of about $182,00)*|
|Job growth predicted (18% from 2012-2022)*|
|Certifications available that can boost career standing*|
|Job satisfaction in performing a necessary medical service*|
|Cons of a Psychopharmacologist Career|
|Physician education is lengthy and rigorous (4 years of medical school and 3-8 years of residency is normal)*|
|Medical school can be expensive (in October 2014, 79% of medical school graduates had debt of $100,000 or more)**|
|Many years of experience may be necessary to specialize in psychopharmacology*|
|May need to be on call or work irregular hours*|
Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Association of American Medical Colleges.
Job Description and Duties
A psychopharmacologist is a physician or psychiatrist who specializes in treating mental disorders with specific drugs and is well-versed in how medication and the human body interact. In general, all physicians take patients' medical history, diagnose and treat illnesses, recommend a treatment plan and answer patients' questions. Physicians may specialize in psychiatry, where they diagnose and treat mental illness through a variety of means, including counseling, psychoanalysis, hospitalization and medication.
As a psychopharmacologist, you could work in a private office, a clinic or a group practice. You may need to travel to visit patients, such as to their home or to a hospital room. You might also need to work irregular hours to meet with patients and respond to emergencies.
Salary Info and Career Growth
Psychopharmacologists can be either physicians or psychiatrists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicians and surgeons made a mean annual wage of $189,760 in May 2014. Psychiatrists made slightly less (an average of $182,700), but both classifications earn wages that are well above average for salaried workers. Job outlook for all physicians and surgeons is expected to grow 18% from 2012-2022, which is faster than the average for all professions.
Education Requirements and Career Skills
Becoming a practicing physician or psychiatrist typically requires 4 years of undergraduate study, 4 years of medical school and anywhere from 3-8 years of internship and residency, depending on your specialty. To start, undergraduate students need to apply and be accepted to medical school, which is a highly competitive process. Students submit transcripts, MCAT scores and letters of recommendation. If selected to move on in the process, they're also assessed through a personal interview. You'll generally spend the first 2 years of medical school in labs and classrooms, and your last 2 years working directly with patients.
All states require physicians to be licensed, though requirements to obtain licensure vary by state. To be eligible to take the licensing exams, it's important to graduate from an accredited program. All physicians must pass a standardized licensure examination; those who have earned an M.D. take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which tests knowledge of scientific principles, clinical science and patient management.
All doctors should have the following personal qualifications:
- Communication and problem-solving abilities
- Empathy and patience
- Leadership and physical stamina
Job Postings from Real Employers
Jobs for psychopharmacologists tend to involve both direct patient care and staff coordination to create and implement treatment plans. Some jobs might require you to have your own liability insurance, and all jobs will require you to have a license to practice medicine in the state. The ability to speak Spanish could be a big benefit. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the following is a sampling of jobs pertaining to psychopharmacology that were available on USAjobs.gov and Monster.com in May 2012:
- A government agency advertised for a psychiatrist to specialize in addictions at a Des Moines health-care center. Duties include performing psychiatric assessments. Candidates must be U.S. citizens who are skilled in pharmacology. Preferred candidates are board-eligible or already certified in psychiatry and should be willing to obtain a prescription waiver to administer particular medication. Pay is listed at around $98,000 to $195,000 per year.
- A transitional care provider located in Arizona advertised for a variety of behavioral health-care providers, specifying that familiarity with psychopharmacology was preferred and bilingual abilities were highly desired. Positions available included behavioral health doctors, psychologists, social workers and counselors. Candidates should have a valid driver's license and professional liability insurance.
- A Wisconsin mental health center posted for a staff psychiatrist for clinical care and consultation. Candidates must hold a license to practice medicine in Wisconsin and have active privileges with at least one hospital in Madison. Applicants with some Spanish language ability and experience in alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) issues are preferred.
How to Make Your Skills Stand out
The American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) offers the ASCP Examination in Advanced Clinical Psychopharmacology. The exam measures knowledge and expertise in advanced psychopharmacology and tests such areas as the major classes of psychotropics. To qualify for the test, you must be a physician who is board-eligible in your specialty, and you must be a member of the ASCP. The exam is offered a limited number of times per year and must be taken in person. Those who pass will receive a certificate.
All physicians can benefit greatly from becoming board certified by the member board that is relevant to their specialty. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology offers an initial certification in general psychiatry. The test might include both a computer exam and an oral exam. After holding this general certification for at least one year and gaining relevant work experience, you can apply to be certified in one of many subspecialties (for example, addiction psychiatry). Continuing education and experience are required to maintain licensure.
Other Careers to Consider
After considering the prerequisites to become a psychopharmacologist, perhaps you'd be interested in a job that requires less of an educational investment. If that's the case, consider becoming a registered nurse. You'll coordinate with a team of health-care providers to give medical care to patients. You'll record patient histories, administer medication and consult with doctors. You'll need to have a nursing diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree as well as a license. According to the BLS, employment of nurses was expected to grow by 24% from 2010-2020, which is faster than the average for all professions. Registered nurses earned an average annual salary of about $69,000 in May 2011.
For another medical career that does not involve as much schooling as a physician, you could study to be a physician assistant. Your exact duties will vary by state, but you'll work under the supervision of a physician and perform many tasks related to interacting with and caring for patients. You might need to have a bachelor's degree before applying to a 2-year physician assistant program. The number of jobs in the profession was predicted to grow a fast 30% from 2010-2020, and physician assistants took in a mean annual wage of about $89,500 in May 2011, according to the BLS.