Basic Facts of Psychiatrists

Psychiatrists help people maintain good mental health.
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Psychiatrists help people maintain good mental health.

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with mental and emotional disorders, and psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in helping patients maintain good mental health. Since they are medical doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medications to help correct chemical imbalances, unlike psychologists, who only use psychotherapy to help their patients. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 23,140 psychiatrists practicing in the U.S. as of May 2011.


Becoming a psychiatrist requires an undergraduate degree and an M.D., which means eight years of increasingly specialized education before you even begin to practice. Then, your first first four years out of medical school are spent in a residency program where you work with psychiatrists to gain experience and get a real feel for the full scope of psychiatric practice. Residency programs typically involve long hours and relatively low pay.

Board Certification

Many psychiatrists choose to become board certified after completing their residency program. Board certification is a prestigious professional credential and requires passing a rigorous exam on all aspects of psychiatry. You are also required to complete an annual continuing education requirement. Board certifications for most medical specialties are offered by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

Job Description

Psychiatrists treat mental illnesses using a wide range of techniques, including various forms of counseling, psychoanalysis and medications to treat underlying physiological conditions. Counseling or psychotherapy is a process of talking with patients about their problems. The psychiatrist helps the patient identify the problems, and then helps the patient come to terms with the problems through changes in behaviors, considering the impact of past experiences or group therapy sessions. Psychiatrists also prescribe medications for conditions resulting from a chemical imbalance such as depression or attention deficit disorder.

Pay and Employment Prospects

According to the BLS, psychiatrists earned an annual mean salary of $174,170 as of May 2011. Psychiatrists employed by general and surgical hospitals came out on the bottom of the pay scale, taking home a mean salary of $167,160. Psychiatrists employed by state government came in at the top with a salary of $198,730. Physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins also reports that psychiatrists will be in great demand through at least 2020, as a large cohort of psychiatrists are reaching retirement age and relatively few medical school students are choosing psychiatry.

2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.

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