Education and Training Requirements

High School

If working as a psychiatrist sounds interesting to you, you should start preparing for college and medical school while you are still in high school. Do this by taking a college preparatory curriculum and concentrating on math and science classes. Biology, chemistry, and physics as well as algebra, geometry, and calculus will all be helpful. You can also start learning about human behavior by taking psychology, sociology, and history classes. In addition, take English classes to develop your communication skills—much of a psychiatrist's work involves speaking, listening, and record keeping.

Postsecondary Training

When you are deciding what college to attend, keep in mind that you'll want one with a strong science department, excellent laboratory facilities, and a strong humanities department. You may want to check Medical School Admissions Requirements, a publication from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC,, to see what specific college classes you should take in preparation for medical school. Some colleges or universities offer a premed major; other possible majors include chemistry and biology. No matter what your major, though, you can count on taking biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and psychology classes. Medical schools look for well-rounded individuals, however, so be sure to take other classes in the humanities and social sciences. The AAMC reports that most people apply to medical school after their junior year of college. Most medical schools require the Medical College Admission Test as part of their application, so you should take this test your junior or even sophomore year.

In medical school, students must complete a four-year program of medical studies and supervised clinical work leading to their M.D. degrees. Students will once again concentrate on studying the sciences during their first two years; in addition, they will learn about taking a person's medical history and how to do an examination. The next two years are devoted to clinical work, which is when students first begin to see patients under supervision.

After receiving an M.D., physicians who plan to specialize in psychiatry must complete a residency. In the first year, they work in several specialties, such as internal medicine and pediatrics. Then they work for three years in a psychiatric hospital or a general hospital's psychiatric ward. Here they learn how to diagnose and treat various mental and emotional disorders or illnesses. Some psychiatrists continue their education beyond this four-year residency. To become a child psychiatrist, for example, a doctor must train for at least three years in general residency and two years in child psychiatry residency. Part of psychiatrists' training involves undergoing therapy themselves.

Other Education or Training

Continuing education opportunities are provided by many national and state organizations, including the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

All physicians must be licensed in order to practice medicine. After completing the M.D., graduates must pass a licensing test given by the board of medical examiners for the state in which they want to work. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is the certifying board for all psychiatrists regardless of their specialty. To become an ABPN-certified psychiatrist you will need to pass a written and an oral test. Certification subspecialties include addiction psychiatry, brain injury medicine, child and adolescent psychiatry, clinical neurophysiology, forensic psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, hospice and palliative medicine, pain medicine, psychosomatic medicine, and sleep medicine.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

There is no way to obtain direct experience in high school, but it's a good idea to take as many health, psychology, and science classes as possible and participate in science and health clubs. During your medical training, you will gain experience by completing a residency in internal medicine (or pediatrics) and psychiatry. 

To complete the required studies and training, students need outstanding mental ability and perseverance. Psychiatrists must be emotionally stable so they can deal with their patients objectively. Psychiatrists must be perceptive, able to listen well, and able to work well with others. They must also be dedicated to a lifetime of learning, as new therapeutic techniques and medications are constantly being developed.