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A psychiatrist is a licensed medical doctor certified to treat emotional and mental disorders with the authority to prescribe medication. While both psychiatrists and psychologists can practice psychotherapy, only psychiatrists are fully trained physicians, hold medical licenses and can prescribe medication.
Students who are interested in becoming psychiatrists must earn a bachelor's degree, typically majoring in a science-related field or psychology, but may enter with any major as long as they complete the basic sciences required for medical school.
After obtaining a bachelor degree students must complete a medical degree at an allopathic or osteopathic institution. These four year programs prepare students to become a physician and include course work in human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology to name a few. They also include clinical rotations in Family Medicine, OB/GYN, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Neurology, Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Psychiatry and several electives. Psychiatry-related studies in medical school include such topics as diagnosing and classifying psychiatric disorders, understanding and prescribing somatic and non-somatic treatments and evaluating, diagnosing and formulating a treatment plan for psychiatric patients.
After earning a medical degree, physicians must complete a four-year residency in psychiatry to be eligible for certification by they American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Residents are paid an annual salary while learning in a four year apprentice style hands-on clinical training with academic scholarship and research.
Graduates of psychiatric residency programs must apply for a state physician's license in order to become a practicing psychiatrist. Because they can prescribe medication, psychiatrists must also have a federal narcotics license and registration number from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
After completing residency many psychiatrists choose to sub-specialize by completing fellowship training.
Most states require that practicing psychiatrists complete continuing education credits in order to maintain their licenses. Information on continuing medical education (CME) courses and credits can be obtained through the American Psychiatric Association.