Mental illness is becoming increasingly widespread in our complex and challenging world.

Psychiatrists are highly qualified medical doctors who are licensed to diagnose and treat all kinds of mental illnesses. They are there to help people overcome this most distressing time of their lives.

A man sitting in a psychiatrists office showing distress while a female psychiatrist listens and takes notes.

Becoming a psychiatrist takes many years of hard work, academic study, and dedication.


While most professions require between 3 to 5 years of post-secondary study, psychiatry requires up to 12 years!

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High school

  • Study hard and maintain excellent academic grades

  • Focus on studying science and maths subjects


  • Complete a pre-med major with a focus on biology, chemistry, calculus, and physics

  • Sit the 7.5 hour MCAT exam to be accepted into medical school

Three people graduating. They stand underneath the entrance to their school and wave their graduation hats. Photo by Leon Wu on Unsplash

Medical school

  • Complete a four-year medical degree

  • Sit the state board licensing examination

Psychiatric residency

  • On average this is a four-year program

  • Take the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology certification exam (renewed every 10 years)

Optional sub-specialization

  • Some psychiatrists choose to continue their training in a sub-specialization

  • Some common areas include addiction psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, pediatric psychiatry, and neuropsychiatry


Medical doctors and psychiatrists must complete similar training.

Skills needed

Academic brilliance

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  • You'll need an extremely strong track record of high grades, especially in the sciences

  • Show your dedication to excellence by taking part in scientific competitions or participating in the Model UN

Leadership and initiative

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  • Get involved in extracurricular activities such as a science club or your school's Friends of Doctors Without Borders chapter

  • Achieving a leadership role within your chosen organization will help you to stand out

Care and empathy

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  • A critical attribute of anyone in the psychiatric profession is a great capacity to care and empathize with people who may be experiencing extreme distress

  • Demonstrate these traits through your internships and volunteer/work experience

  • Offer your time at your local doctor's office, hospital, or school

Advice from a Pro

With all that education and training, it may seem like a psychiatrist has all the answers. But, according to those working in the field, it is incredibly important to listen to your patients and work out solutions together.

And, I think that I try very hard to let people identify things that are salient to them, so things that they want to work on, that they want to target, that they see as issues, so that we can kind of come to a shared conclusion about what we’re going to go after and make up some goals together.

-- Anonymous psychiatrist interviewed as a part of a research project

A cartoon of two people fitting the pieces of a jigsaw in the shape of a head together. -- Image from Freepik

Take Action

Begin to prepare for a career in psychiatry by taking these additional steps:

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