Can I Major In Psychology To Become A Psychiatrist?

"I want to become a psychiatrist after I graduate from school. A psychiatrist, not just a psychologist. So to do that, do I just start out by majoring in psychology, and then go on and get a master’s degree in psychology, and then a PhD? I just wanted to check because something about that seems wrong."

asked by Tricia from Topeka, KS

It’s great that you already know what you want to do for a living. It’s a good thing that you checked the steps, however, because the steps you listed would help you become a psychologist, but not a psychiatrist. The difference, as I’m sure you know, is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medications for disorders, while a psychologist cannot.

The path you described does not include the training necessary to administer medications safely, so you cannot become a psychiatrist through that route. Instead, you need to go to medical school. Psychiatrists are MDs.

Start out by earning your bachelor’s degree in psychology, just as you planned. Actually, you can choose another major if you prefer to, because there is no required major for medical school admissions. You do need to make sure regardless though that you take all the prerequisite courses for medical school. Usually this includes a couple of basic chemistry classes (including organic), biology, and physics, along with basic English.

Check medical schools you are interested in to see what their requirements are. You will also need to take the MCAT exam at some point while you are in your junior year. Keep your GPA high so that you can qualify for admission.

Your next step to becoming a psychiatrist will be to attend medical school. You will usually need to stay in medical school for around four to five years. Part of becoming a psychiatrist is completing a psychiatric residency. This also takes about four years. You’ll get experience in a variety of areas when you are in your residency. After that, you will need to pass the licensing exam issued by your state. After you are licensed, you also should consider getting certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Becoming a psychiatrist is quite an involved career path that requires a lot of advanced education. You are training to become a doctor who specializes in dealing with behavioral and psychological disorders—which is a much more involved path than becoming a psychologist. Both require advanced degrees, but psychiatry requires a larger investment of time and money.

Keep your grades high in high school and in college, and make sure you are covering all your prerequisite requirements. It is a wise idea to come up with a time table for completion of your degrees and to work with an advisor to ensure you are on track. That way you will be able to complete your education in a timely fashion and begin working as a psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Even though it takes a long time to become a licensed psychiatrist, it can be a very rewarding career!

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