THE BLOG
08/26/2013 09:56 am ET Updated Nov 22, 2016

The Things You Should Know If You're Interested in Becoming a Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist, similar to a psychologist, deals with mental disorders and treating them. However, they have a distinct difference -- psychiatrists are more affiliated with medicine. That means they focus more on studying, diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental disorders from a medical standpoint, rather than studying the patient and their behavior due to the disorder. So before you take a step into the world of a psychiatrist, you should make sure it is really what you want to do.

Will I like Psychiatry?

Are you able to listen to other people speaking, genuinely being able to take all the information given to you and respond appropriately? If your answer is no, psychiatry probably isn't right for you. But if you believe you are capable to listening to a patient for up to an hour at a time without being judgmental, you may have what it takes to be a psychiatrist. And if you enjoy doing it, then that is even better. Here are some questions to ask yourself before getting started in psychiatry:

• Do you like being in one on one situations rather than being in a group?
• Do you like letting other people lead conversations?
• Can you maintain composure under stress or duress?
• Do you like having people place their trust in you?
• Are you a patient person? If not, you may find being a psychiatrist to be one of the harder jobs you will face.
• Are you interested in the human mind and the various affects medication has in restoring or repairing it to its optimum form?
• Are you interested in learning more about mental disorders such as schizophrenia or PTSD?
• Are you good at memorizing? Do you like to diagnose problems?

These are some of the things to keep in mind before you decide to go into psychiatry. And while these introspective questions may not be extensive, they are some key indicators in telling whether you will be interested in the field before you jump right into it.

What does it take to become a Psychiatrist?

The road to becoming a licensed psychiatrist is long one, but if you love the field and want to help people with mental ailments, it is well worth the time and effort needed. First off, you must have your bachelor's degree. Some students choose to major in psychology, but there are many other social sciences or life sciences that will be equally useful. You could do sociology or health science if you are more interested in the "people" aspect, or you can go into physiology or biology if you are into the medical aspect. However, no matter which one you choose, it is important to get some pre-med experience throughout your journey. Once you are prepared, you can take your MCATs in order to apply for medical school once you obtain your undergraduate degree.

Upon entering medical school, you can expect to find a similar environment from your undergraduate experience - basically just taking science classes in order to expand your knowledge in the field of medicine. However, after two years, you can expect to start shadowing doctors, psychiatrists, or other health care professionals in order to finish your medical school training. This second part of medical school is called rotations. All in all, you can expect medical school to last four years. Before graduating, you will need to apply for residency in some psychiatric facility in order to finalize your psychiatrist licensing.

Your residency will take you an extra four years but will develop your skills using on-the-job training. You will work with mentors and other residents in rotations in order to get hands on experience in all fields of psychiatry, including research and diagnosis. You will also receive clinical training in order to further expand your knowledge of psychiatric medical treatments. Overall, your time in your residency should be a rewarding and enriching experience, if you take it in the right place. Choosing the perfect place to do your residency is another topic of its own, and should be thoroughly researched before committing to one.

Finally, after you go through your undergraduate program, medical school, and residency, you must pass your state's board exam in order to be licensed. From there you can become certified with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and get started with helping people get their lives in order.

What is being a psychiatrist like at medical center?

If you want to be a psychiatrist at a private practice, then your days are very much like that of a psychologist or a private doctor -- it will be a lot of one-on-one interaction with your clients and you will go home in the afternoon. But if you want to practice psychiatry at a medical center or hospital, here is what you should expect:

As a psychiatrist at a medical center or hospital, you can expect to start your days at any given time depending on your rotation. On your shifts, you will have your interns going over the events of the previous shift to catch you up (this is something you should be familiar with my now since you went through your residency). From there, you pick and choose between all the patients, deciding which ones need to stay and get inpatient care, and which ones just need to go home with a prescription. Some may just need a follow up with a different specialist, such as a neurologist.

Your days will be filled with listening to the interpretations of patient stories through the mouths of your interns - in some cases you will listen to the patients if the interns have trouble finding a trigger for a psychiatric break, but know there is something wrong with the patient. During this time, you will also be responsible for training the interns by questioning everything they do, and explaining anything that you do.

If you are interested in becoming a psychiatrist, you now have all the information you need in order to reach your goals. While it may take a long time, it may be worth it if you like to help others improve their lives by conquering their mental demons. As a psychiatrist you will be learning, studying, diagnosing, and treating mental disorders from a medical standpoint in order to enrich the lives of your patients. If that sounds like you, then psychiatry is your calling.