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Psychiatrist Job Description, Career as a Psychiatrist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College, medical school, and specialized training

Salary: Median—$180,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Psychiatrists are physicians who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. They treat patients with mild cases of anxiety as well as those with severe disorders that can cause dangerous and bizarre behavior. Psychiatrists may also diagnose mental retardation and treat alcoholism. They often work with other mental health workers, such as psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatric social workers.

Psychiatrists talk with patients to learn about their mental health problems. They may also use information provided by patients' families or by other mental health workers. They are trained to recognize the connection between mental and physical disorders, so they may order laboratory or other diagnostic tests.

For treatment, psychiatrists can prescribe drugs and use shock therapy and psychotherapy. In psychotherapy, psychiatrists use their special training to talk with one or more patients to help them understand and cope with their problems.

Psychiatrist and patient in therapy session

Psychiatrists may work with patients in private offices or in hospitals or clinics. They may also do research, studying the causes and treatment of mental illness. Some psychiatrists teach in medical schools or in special psychiatric institutes. Others write or edit psychiatric books or journals.

Psychiatrists are often confused with psychologists and psychoanalysts. Psychiatrists are physicians who have advanced training in psychiatry. As physicians, they can prescribe medication. Psychologists have either master's degrees or doctorates in psychology. They are not physicians and cannot prescribe drugs or perform surgery. Psychologists are basically scientists who study the reactions of people to their environment. Psychoanalysts are specially trained to practice long-term therapy that investigates the subconscious or hidden causes of emotional disturbances. Most psychoanalysts are psychiatrists, while those known as lay analysts are not.

Education and Training Requirements

Psychiatrists need extensive training after high school. They get bachelor's degrees, followed by four years of medical school. After one-year internships, they must also have three years of psychiatric training as residents in hospitals. Usually after one or two years of residency, psychiatrists must take examinations to be licensed, which is required in all states. They need additional experience before they are eligible to take examinations for certification as psychiatrists.

Getting the Job

Psychiatrists work in institutions or in private practice. Some combine the two types of work. Building a successful private practice can take a while, so many beginning psychiatrists start their careers in established psychiatric offices. Professional associations can provide information about setting up a practice or getting salaried positions.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Psychiatrists usually advance by building their practices. Some specialize in fields such as child, educational, or legal psychiatry. Others become teachers, researchers, or administrators in colleges, hospitals, or other institutions.

Employment of physicians in general is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through 2014. Expansion of the health-care industry, a growing population, and increasing life spans, as well as higher incomes and educational levels, are spurring the demand. Shortages of psychiatrists exist, especially in rural areas and in public facilities.

Working Conditions

Psychiatrists in private practice work in quiet, peaceful settings so their patients can feel at ease. However, the work can be stressful because of the suffering they see every day. In addition, psychiatrists in private practice must be available to their patients whenever they need help, so their working hours can be irregular. Psychiatrists who work in hospitals and clinics often have more regular hours than private practitioners do because the staff divides the hours they must be on call. To do their work well, psychiatrists must be well balanced, disciplined, and enjoy working with all kinds of people.

Where to Go for More Information

American College of Psychiatrists
122 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1360
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 622-1020

American Psychiatric Association
1000 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1825
Arlington, VA 22209-3901
(703) 907-7300

Earnings and Benefits

Psychiatrists' earnings are similar to those of other physicians. In 2004 psychiatrists who had been in practice more than one year earned a median income of $180,000 per year. Psychiatrists in private practice provided their own benefits. Salaried psychiatrists received paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

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