There's no question about it – being a psychiatrist is a challenging and highly stressful profession. However, there are a number of significant benefits that influence medical students to choose this specialty, including good pay, high demand, job satisfaction and colleague recognition.
Despite a sizable investment for a medical degree, psychiatrists make a good living. According to the 2011 survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for psychiatrists is $174,170. Factors such as type of employer and geographic location influence pay rate, with salaries ranging from $67,460 to more than $198,730. Psychiatrists working for the government and in outpatient care settings tended to make the most, while psychiatrists working in the offices of other mental health practitioners, such as psychologists, tended to make the least.
Choosing a specialty requires extra training and time, so medical students look for high-demand careers, such as psychiatry. According to a 2010 article in "USA Today," demand for psychiatrists is the fastest growing of all the medical specialties. In the article, the physician recruiting company, Merritt Hawkins, reported that psychiatrists were the third-most requested physician specialty the firm received in 2010. Factors cited for the increased demand include a growing population, an aging population, increased mental health awareness and expanded insurance coverage.
Intrinsic rewards of being a psychiatrist include being able to leave behind the more rigid practice of a "medical model" and looking at patients more as "people than diseases." Psychiatrists also typically don't require lab coats and stethoscopes. Psychiatrists experience pride and job satisfaction when their treatment significantly improve their patients' lives. Because mental health issues cannot be definitively diagnosed with tests in the same way as medical issues, there's a new puzzle to solve almost every day and that can be very rewarding.
Psychiatrists don't practice in a vacuum. They often work as part of a multi-disciplinary team that includes psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurse practitioners, especially in inpatient and residential settings. In this type of practice, care is uniquely delivered by each specialist. The psychiatrist is typically the leader of this team, coordinating all treatment efforts and making the final decision in such matters as medication and, in facility-based treatment settings, when to discharge patients. When the team is successful, much of the credit goes to the leader – the psychiatrist. Even in academic settings, there's potential for colleague recognition, as psychiatrists publish their results in peer-review journals or present their findings at professional conferences.
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.