As a psychiatrist you will lead a healthcare team providing for patients’ mental health and serve as the primary mental health-care giver. Depending on the needs of a practice this could include inpatient, outpatient, and emergency psychiatric services. There are also specialty opportunities in focused areas such as pediatrics, chemical dependency, organizational psychiatry or geriatric psychiatry.
Short term, but extended postings (e.g. several weeks to months) are a great way to see if a certain practice or specific area of the country is a good fit for you. These “extended interviews” may lead to a permanent position or can just be a great way to travel and expand your “knowledge” of how things are done at different places.
Psychiatrists are in great need throughout most of the United States as fewer medical students are choosing this specialty. You will have opportunities to treat interesting cases from mild, self-limiting diseases to chronic and life threatening conditions.
Psychiatrists need exceptional communication and listening skills. This includes the ability to express empathy and conveying concern to a patient, as well as having difficult, uncomfortable conversations with patients. Psychiatrists also need to consider the ethical implications of their treatment while paying close attention to boundaries and vulnerabilities of patients.
Clinical knowledge, negotiation and problem solving are minimum necessary skills in psychiatry. Based on the nature of mental illness, you will need to act like a detective many times and enjoy investigating the complex nature of mental illness.
Because of the link between emerging science and the functions of the brain, your professional competence will depend on the ability to be a life long learner and keep up with the medical literature. You will need to continually develop your professional competence by self-identifying areas where you need to improve your competence and skills.
Psychiatrists need to be team players. Patients will often see other professionals such as a counselor or social worker and you will need to coordinate with other members of a treatment team. While you will likely be the team leader, every team member is essential for patients to receive the best care. If you do not play well in the sandbox with others your patients will suffer.
In order to become a psychiatrist you must first complete a 4 year medical degree followed by a four year residency training. Subspecialties require further training. Psychiatry training includes diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, the use of counseling and psychotherapy as wells medications and other treatments.
Every state in the U.S. requires licensure to practice. In general, you must graduate from an accredited medical school, complete residency training, and pass a general licensing exam that all physicians must pass. Additionally, many hospitals require their medical staff to be board certified in their specialty. This requires you to pass psychiatry specific written and oral exams.
There is the potential for tremendous growth and opportunities in nearly every part of the United States, especially rural areas and smaller communities. The median salary (salary at which 50% of psychiatrist make more and 50% make less) is $173, 330. Some positions offer hourly compensation in the range of $90-100 dollars per hour.
Compensation depends on how much you want to work and there may be incentives to live and work in certain parts of the country. For example, you might expect to make more money if you are willing to work in a smaller town compared to a larger city in the same geographic region.
Additionally, bonuses and incentives are available for taking call and preforming administrative duties like acting as a medical director.
Psychiatrists work in a much larger variety of practice situations compared to other specialties. In addition to traditional outpatient, inpatient, or hospitalist practices, psychiatrists may be employed by community agencies, hospice medicine, prisons, courts, or industry. Some psychiatrist will combine traditional practice with other opportunities.
Psychiatrists are in great demand and travel positions will offer you a number of benefits no matter the stage of your career:
Traveling psychiatrists generally report higher salaries compared to their fulltime, location dependent colleagues.
Finally, travel opens many opportunities to learn and help. You will see different patients and experience the medical community differently than if you were in a full time, location dependent practice.
A colleague without a long needed vacation may get one because you are will to travel to their community. A much-needed clinic may maintain certification and remain open because of the time you spend there.
By Pat F. Bass III, M.D., M.S., M.P.H.
Pat is a board certified General Internist and Pediatrician He has served as a reviewer for leading national publications including Pediatrics, the Journal of General Internal Medicine and the Annals of Internal Medicine. Pat is also the asthma guide to About.com, a New York Times Company. Learn more about Pat on Google+