Can I Become a Psychiatrist with a Master’s in Psychology?

psychiatristIndividuals interested in the mental health field may sometimes start out wondering about the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist and how similar the educational requirements are for each profession. Some may be surprised that while both of these professionals often undertake similar types of responsibilities, the qualifications and training required is quite different.

A psychiatrist in the United States is a licensed medical doctor who has specialized in mental illness. A Masters degree in psychology does not qualify a person as either a medical doctor or a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists treat their patients using medications, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and other psychiatric methods. Psychiatrists also can determine if the mental problems of their patients are due to physical ailments.

Educational Requirements for Psychiatrists

Admission to medical school requires a bachelor’s degree with appropriate course work from a college or university acceptable to the medical school. Suitable courses include psychology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, mathematics, and physics. The person also must obtain a suitable grade on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and provide proof of various other qualifications. Four or five years of medical school must also be completed to obtain an M.D. degree.

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Since there is stiff competition for admission to medical school, many candidates won’t be accepted. To improve the chances of admission, you need to have top grades at a top school. It also helps to have performed volunteer work or and internship in a hospital or psychiatric clinic. Other ways to help gain admission are strong recommendations from experienced physicians or psychiatrists.

Training and other Requirements

After completing medical school, an aspiring psychiatrist must complete four or five years of psychiatric internship and residency training. In addition, they must be licensed to practice by their state. This requires that they pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination and fulfill any other state requirement.

Board certification as a psychiatrist is optional but highly desirable. Candidates must pass an examination and possess certain other qualifications to be certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Continuing Education

Maintenance of board certification and state license may require psychiatrists to continue with education throughout their career. This education normally is provided by approved workshops, seminars, and classes from professional institutions.

Finding Employment

A psychiatrist either can be self-employed or can be employed as part of a medical health team that needs the services of a psychiatrist. They also can perform consulting work with primary care physicians, social workers, and psychologists. They may offer testimony as an expert witness in a criminal trial. They may determine whether a criminal has the mental facilities to stand trial.

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist

The basic difference  between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist is that a psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor and a psychologist is not. In addition, a psychiatrist is educated at medical school and receives an M.D. degree. A psychologist is educated at a college or university and receives a doctoral-level degree in psychology. However, both professions treat mental ailments and require a state license to practice.

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Most states do not allow psychologists to prescribe medications. However, this is gradually changing. A few states allow psychologists with advanced medical training to prescribe medications.

So, can you become a psychiatrist with a master’s in psychology?  A Masters in Psychology does not qualify you to be a psychiatrist; however, it certainly does not mean you can’t go on to medical school if you’ve already received a Master’s in Psychology.  It just means more education, training, and of course tuition.