Career as a Psychiatrist

The Ladder

How to Advance as a Psychiatrist

Diplomas in hand, job interview aced, experience under the belt... but now what?

For psychiatrists, the next stop along the career path isn't always an obvious one. And how do you get there? As a result of our research here at ValuePenguin, we have identified six steps to take when moving up the ladder in the field. Along the way, we'll also detail related career options and ask three working professionals about how to excel.

When it comes to "related," all is relative. In fact, the careers most connected to that of psychiatrist can be wildly different in terms of the education required, salary earned and common work activities. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are four somewhat similar jobs to keep in mind.

JobDegreeMedian Salary (2014)Notable
Psychiatric Technicians and AidesPostsecondary education$28,320 per yearPsychiatric technicians and aides have fortitude; they spend most of their shifts on their feet, care for patients who need round-the-clock care, and may encounter patients who need to be restrained.
Registered NursesBachelor's degree$67,490The need for nurses is projected to grow as the U.S. population ages, more citizens have access to health care, and currently practicing RNs reach retirement age.
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder CounselorsBachelor's degree$39,980This is a very rapidly growing field, with 2014-to-2024 growth predicted at 22%.
Physicians and SurgeonsDoctoral or professional degree$187,200Physicians and surgeons typically spend almost two decades getting their medical degree: 4 years undergraduate, 4 years medical school, and 3-7 years of residency.
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family TherapistsMaster's degree$43,190State licensure requires 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post degree supervised clinical experience.
PsychologistsDoctoral or Master’s degree$72,580Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is an emerging subdiscipline which uses the scientific method to study workers, professional teams, and organizations.

Career Comparison: Psychiatrist versus Psychologist

"The biggest misconception is that psychiatrists and therapists are synonymous," Dr. Brooke Weindarden, a Michigan-based child psychiatrist says. "Psychiatrists are physicians. They go to medical school, require an internship, residency and fellowship." Psychologists, meanwhile, are not medical doctors; they hold a Ph.D., or an M.S. for some positions. For this reason, a psychiatrist can prescribe psychotropic medication or other medical treatments as well as administer psychotherapy, while a clinical psychologist utilizes psychotherapy and social treatments; they are more likely to focus on behaviors and less on biological risk factors and symptoms.

As for the sit-in-the-armchair perception we have of both professions, "many psychiatrists do not provide therapy, even though it is an integral part of mental health treatment.," Weindarden said. "It is important, as doctors, to understand all of the specific types of therapy, and which are indicated for different diagnoses. However, therapists, social workers and psychologists have specific training for therapy. Some psychiatrists take further training and fellowships in therapeutic techniques, and will provide therapy, but this is an extra option above and beyond required training. Psychiatrists focus on the neurobiological, medical and organic causes of mental illness diagnoses. There is more overlap with psychiatrists and neurologists in many cases, than with therapists."

Six Steps to Advance

Before we get to ValuePenguin's checklist, consider Dr. Lane M. Cook's: "Advancing your career in psychiatry begins with getting the best residency you can. What you learn in residency will carry you throughout your career. Then associate yourself with good mentors, good partners, good associates. Make friends with clinical psychologists and clinical social workers and other therapists. You will refer to them and they will refer to you. Get great continuing medical education. CME can be lousy to excellent. Don’t pick them based on locale alone; stick to the experts in the subjects you want to know more about. Get people to like you. Be a leader.”

Poll: What Separates a Great Psychiatrist from an Average One?

Just as no two psychiatrists are identical, no two psychiatrists are of the same caliber. What, then, is the difference between a great one and a so-so peer? Of course, there is no single correct answer. Here are three.

Dr. Lane M. Cook (Louisiana State University, 1977): “The difference between a great psychiatrist and an average one begins with the person. The characteristics most favored by patients are someone kind, caring and compassionate, a good listener and a team player. This must be combined with state-of-the-art knowledge about psychiatric medications and treatments. A great psychiatrist is willing to take a chance, try something new or something old used in a new way. A great psychiatrist has worked out his/her own issues, been in therapy and keeps good boundaries with his/her patients. An average or below-average psychiatrist is someone you wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with.”

Dr. Gary S. Moak (University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 1982): “A great psychiatrist does not limit his or her approach to helping patients to a single school or approach, but, instead, is empirically minded. This means being flexible and open to a wide range of approaches that have been shown, scientifically, to work, and individualizing the treatment to the needs of each, unique patient. The approach should be patient-driven rather than dogma-driven, adaptable and creative.”

Dr. Brooke Weindarden (Tour College, 2009): “It is important to really remember to look at the patient as a whole, to remember normal development and the theories of developmental stages and how it applies to each patient’s life situation. It is also important to recognize our own feelings of transference and countertransference about the patient situation. Sometimes it is better to wait and watch, before making too many changes.”

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