How Do I Get a PhD in Psychiatry?

The doctorate (PhD) in psychiatry is a medical research and teaching degree that focuses on the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. To earn a PhD in psychiatry, you must first complete medical school and obtain your physician’s license, followed psychiatric residency training. Certain medical schools offer physician-scientist tracks in which students receive both a medical degree and a PhD in psychiatry, which is the better option, though it is extremely competitive.

A bachelor’s degree in any discipline is required for admission to medical school, as long as you complete the pre-medical (pre-med) coursework. Although many students choose to major in sciences such as biology or chemistry, it is not necessary. Biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics are all pre-med courses that must be taken with a laboratory for a year each. Prerequisite courses may be required depending on your high school record before you can enroll in pre-med classes. Because applying to medical school is extremely competitive, it is critical to excel in all of your courses.

A combined medical and PhD in psychiatry track is available at some medical schools. MD/PhD programs allow medical students to complete medical school and a PhD in psychiatry at the same time over a seven to eight-year period. This is also an option, as you would apply to an MD/PhD psychiatry program after completing your pre-medical coursework and earning your bachelor’s degree. Admission to MD/PhD programs is even more competitive. For acceptance into MD/PhD psychiatry programs, research experience is required.

If you are not accepted into a physician-scientist program, you will still need to complete residency after graduating from medical school. Residency is the training you receive to complete your psychiatry specialty. This will allow you to work as a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill people. Following your residency, you’ll need to apply to a psychiatry doctoral program. Few schools offer a PhD in general psychiatry apart from the MD/PhD tracks, so most PhD programs are in a specialized discipline like molecular psychiatry or forensic psychiatry, but this varies region.

Some people discover that they do not want to be doctors but are fascinated psychology. Psychiatrists are doctors who can prescribe medications and other forms of treatment. Clinical psychologists who have completed a doctorate but did not attend medical school do not typically treat with drugs, though this is changing as some regions are allowing them to do so with additional training.