Psychiatry & Mental Health

Psychiatry Degree, Mental Health Nursing Degree

A broken leg requires a medical doctor – maybe even an orthopedist – to fix it. A patient suffering from the flu would visit their family doctor. But who does someone suffering with a mental illness see? 

The simple answer is a psychiatrist who has a proper degree in psychiatry or a degree in mental health nursing.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have additional training in mental health conditions. They are able to diagnose, treat and counsel patients with mental health conditions such as depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, emotional health and chemical imbalance of the brain, among others. They can prescribe medication for their patients to treat various mental health conditions, or may choose to provide counseling or therapy, or both. 

Psychiatrist or Psychologist?

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and psychologist? While it may sound like the start of a really good joke, it is a serious question many people have about the two professions. Confusion abounds when determining the difference between the two. 

Psychology can be defined in one of two ways. First and foremost, it is the mental characteristics or attitude which defines a person or group of people. It also can be defined as the scientific study of the human mind and its function, particularly those which affect human behavior in certain situations. People who study psychology are called psychologists. It is the goal of psychologists to both understand and treat the human psyche, which includes treatment for mental health, enhancing the performance of the human brain, self-help therapy and other mental health issues that affect one’s daily health and living. 

A psychiatrist is a medical specialist who is devoted to the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses. Unlike a psychologist, a psychiatrist possesses a degree in medicine and has received the same training and education as any medical doctor. In addition to medical training – which includes a residency following medical school – psychiatrists also must pass state licensing requirements in order to practice. 

Another important difference between psychology and psychiatry is that psychiatrists, as medically-trained doctors, are able to prescribe medication to their patients. Psychologists are not. If, in addition to therapy and counseling, being able to prescribe medication to patients is an option you would like to have, then consider pursuing a degree in psychiatry.

Education Requirements

Those seeking to become a licensed psychiatrist can expect to spend at least 8-10 years in a medical program at an accredited college or university. Prior to entering medical school, they are expected to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited college or university. Some schools offer online components to their programs; however, the majority of training for this career must be done on site due to the nature of the courses being taught. 

After earning a Bachelor’s degree, psychiatry hopefuls are expected to take the same core courses and learn the basic medical skills as all medical students in a medical school program. During this time, students wishing to pursue a degree in psychiatry can declare it as an area of concentration, and will receive coursework specific to the field. 

Psychiatrists-in-training are expected to complete a field residency at a qualifying hospital or treatment center upon graduation. They also must take a licensing test specific to their state of practice. To determine specific licensing requirements for your state, visit the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology’s website at

Future Outlook and Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for a psychiatrist is $174,170. Psychiatrists who work for outpatient care centers and government agencies can make upwards of $190,000 annually. States with the highest demand for trained psychiatrists are Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, California and Texas. 

In 2010, Money Magazine listed psychiatry as the 29th best job to have on a list of 100 professions. The 10-year job growth for psychiatry is listed at 24 percent. Money ranked psychiatry at number 29 due to the personal satisfaction of those in the profession, job security, future growth, benefit to society, low stress and flexibility of the job. 

A separate article from 2011 in US News and World Report said that while all jobs in the healthcare industry are showing rapid growth, demand for trained psychiatrists spiked 47 percent. 

Once properly trained in the field, psychiatrists can seek employment assistance through the American Psychiatric Association’s website, which operates a job bank for its members. 

Article by Shari Berg,

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