Psychiatry can be a rewarding profession, but it is one that takes a bit of time and determination to break into. In nearly every jurisdiction, psychiatry is a medical specialty, which means that one must first be a doctor in order to become a psychiatrist. Medical school is therefore an early requirement. Throughout the course of medical studies, it is important that you take a lot of courses on mental health and illnesses so that you will have a favorable chance of securing a psychiatry internship or residency position upon graduation. The training required to become a psychiatrist or to get a psychiatrist job often takes upwards of eight years.
Medical training and doctor licensing is a matter of national law. Each country has its own requirements and processes for entering the field. Much of what it takes to become a psychiatrist, or any other medical specialist, for that matter, depends at least in part on your location.
In some countries, like the United States and Canada, medical school is a graduate program, typically spanning four years, that usually requires a bachelor’s degree for admission. Most of the time, applicants must hold degrees in hard sciences or math, or at least be able to show a certain number of undergraduate credit hours in the same. Students in these countries must begin their planning for psychiatrist careers early, typically by the second year of college or university.
The system in other places, including the UK, Australia, and much of Europe, is more direct. Medical programs in these countries often accept students directly out of high school, based primarily on exam results and demonstrated academic ability. Students earn the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, then go on to complete an M.D. degree in about the same amount time as it would take an American or Canadian student to complete college and then medical school.
Graduating with a medical degree under any national scheme makes one a doctor, but not usually a doctor who is able to practice right away. Most of the time, newly-minted doctors must complete a series of rotations known as residency and internship programs in a specialty of their choosing. This is when students can elect to study psychiatric medicine in more depth, and is where they prepare to become certified as psychiatrists.
Medical specialties can be competitive to enter, and not all students who want to specialize in a certain field may be able to. Most hospitals and universities offer only a limited number of residency and internship programs in any given field, psychiatrist jobs included. A student who wants to become a psychiatrist must be prepared to apply to a wide range of psychiatry programs, often in geographically diverse locations. Most of the time, these programs conclude with certification exams which must be passed to begin practice and, in the case of psychiatry, to become a psychiatrist and begin independent work.