What Is a Psychiatrist? 6 Steps to Become One

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Psychiatrists are a type of medical practitioner specialising in psychiatric medicine. Learn more about this career and steps for entering a psychiatry career.

[Featured Image]:  Psychiatrist, wearing an orange outfit, standing in the office, waiting to consult with a client.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication for mental health problems.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 65 per cent of all adults interviewed in the UK reported experiencing a mental health problem [1]. Psychiatrists help individuals suffering from a broad range of mental health conditions–from addictive behaviours to depression–by providing them with the expertise required to accurately diagnose their conditions and provide effective treatment.

In this article, you'll learn more about psychiatrists, what they do, how much they earn, and what you need to do to become one. In the end, you'll also find some suggested courses to help you start exploring this fascinating health care career today.

What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MBBS or MBChB) who evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders, such as addictive behaviours, personality disorders, and depression.

Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medication to their patients and focus primarily on the biological and neurological basis for mental health disorders. Nonetheless, psychiatrists can also provide talk and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

What does a psychiatrist do?

Psychiatrists must perform a range of duties during their day-to-day work. Specific responsibilities might include:

  • Conducting patient assessments such as interviews and psychological tests

  • Reviewing patient medical histories

  • Documenting and analysing assessment findings 

  • Prescribing and monitoring medications 

  • Creating and maintaining treatment plans

  • Monitoring the progression of patients' health following treatment

  • Adjusting treatment plans as necessary

Because of the nature of their work, psychiatrists may also play a role in crisis intervention. Depending on the setting, psychiatrists often work alongside psychologists, psychiatric technicians, aides, and social workers. 

Psychiatrist salary

As highly trained medical professionals with an in-demand skill set, psychiatrists make a much higher salary than is the average in the United Kingdom. According to Glassdoor, psychiatrists in the UK make an average annual salary of £100,380 [2]. 

Psychiatrist vs. psychologist vs. therapist: What's the difference?

While all three are mental health professionals, the roles of psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists differ in a few key ways. The level of required education and expected salary also differ. Psychiatry jobs tend to be more lucrative because psychiatrists must be medical doctors.

Psychiatrists tend to work with more severe cases and can prescribe medication to patients.

Psychologists explore how the mind functions and may specialise in areas like mental health or clinical psychology, although not all psychologists work directly with patients.

Psychotherapists, on the other hand, rely primarily on psychotherapy (or talk therapy) and similar practices to help clients.


How to Become a Psychiatrist: 10 steps to success

Psychiatrists are highly trained medical professionals who must undergo many years of education and training. Here's what you'll have to do to join the profession:

1. Earn your medical degree. 

The first step to becoming a psychiatrist in the UK is to complete a five-year degree in medicine in a programme recognised by the General Medical Council. Entry into these programmes typically requires taking A-levels in science and maths subjects and an admissions test. Common options include the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT), and University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). Once accepted, you can expect to complete a mix of coursework and clinical training working with real patients to help you hone the stellar medical, psychiatric, and interpersonal skills needed for this role.

2. Complete foundation training.  

After completing your medical degree, you will go through a two-year foundation programme. In this programme, you will work at several training posts for months-long periods. You will learn about different medical specialities, including psychiatry. It is a generalised training programme and a requirement for all medical students.This is an excellent opportunity to explore possible specialisation areas such as forensic, general, or child and adolescent psychiatry.

3. Complete core psychiatry training.  

After completing foundational training, you will be able to specialise in psychiatry through a three-year core training programme that most learners call CT1, CT2, and CT3. By the end of this three-year period, you will need to have taken the MRCPsych exam, so you are able to move into subspecialty training. In some cases, you can apply to have your core training and specialty training in the same location.

4. Specialty psychiatry training. 

After core psychiatry training, you can complete the three-year high psychiatry training programme. This is a three-year programme, each year referred to as ST4, ST5, and ST6, respectively. These three years will be in the specialty you have chosen within psychiatry. During this time, you will also be able to expand into other specialties if desired. The most common subspecialities are psychiatry of learning disabilities, geriatric, paediatric, forensic, or general adult.

5. Work as a psychiatrist. 

After completing your core and specialty training, you will obtain a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) and enter into the GMC’s specialist register. In doing so, you gain the opportunity to work at consultant posts. 

6. Embrace lifelong learning.

To offer your patients the best care, you will want to stay up to date on the latest studies in psychiatry. Joining professional organisations and attending conferences can expand your network and provide opportunities to stay up-to-date with ongoing research and new techniques. 

Next steps

Explore whether a career in psychiatry might be a good fit for you by enrolling in a course from a leading university, like Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health from the University of Sydney or Medical Neuroscience from Duke University on Coursera.

Article sources


Mental Health Foundation. “Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK's mental health, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/publications/surviving-or-thriving-state-uks-mental-health.” Accessed February 13, 2023.

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