A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. In order to become a psychiatrist, you have to attend medical school and receive a medical degree, along with completing an internship and residency in psychiatry.

The fact that psychiatrists have to attend medical school is what sets them apart from other mental health professionals. Their degrees allow them to prescribe medication to help treat their patients.

In order to become a psychiatrist, it is important to know that it is a very large commitment and takes a lot of schooling. In total, it takes around 12 years to finish up school after high school.

Step One: Graduate with a bachelor’s degree

The first step to becoming a psychiatrist is to attend college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree. There is no required major to get accepted to medical school, though it would be beneficial to have background in science (biology, chemistry, etc.). Additionally, there are pre-med programs at most colleges that help put you on track with the classes needed for admission. Traditionally, you would have to take at least one year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and calculus.

Having an above-average GPA would also be helpful for your application. The process to get into a school is rigorous and it is important to stand out in any way possible. The average GPA for medical school students is 3.71. Having a GPA higher than that could help set you apart from other candidates.

Step Two: Take the MCAT and get accepted to medical school

After graduating from undergrad, the next step to becoming a psychiatrist is to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The test lasts around 8 hours and covers four sections: biological and biochemical foundations of living systems, chemical and physical foundations of biological systems, psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior, and critical analysis and reasoning skills. Preparing for this exam is difficult and takes a lot of time. It is recommended to start preparing around 3-6 months before the exam.

Getting accepted into medical school, as mentioned, is a rigorous process that is very competitive. Having a high MCAT score can increase your chances. The average score for accepted applicants is 511/528.

Step Three: Graduate medical school and find a residency program

Once accepted, you have to complete and graduate medical school. Medical school typically takes four years to finish. Having high medical school grades can help you get in to a good residency program. Before finding a residency, you have to register to become a licensed doctor, and take a state board examination. This exam is usually after you have interned for a while. A psychiatric residency usually takes around 4 years to complete. During your residency, you’ll learn about and treat a variety of mental health conditions, most likely in a hospital setting.

Step Four: Take your Boards

At some point before your residency ends, you’ll have to become board-certified with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. This means you’ll have to take another oral examination with the Board. Certification is optional however it is extremely beneficial to get board certified. After you pass, you’ll have to take your boards every 10 years.

Step Five: Complete any other licensing requirements

Finally, the requirements for psychiatrists vary between states. It is important to check with your state guidelines in order to make sure you can complete any continuing education credits to keep your medical license.

Becoming a psychiatrist is a long and demanding process but it is worth it for those who are devoted to their practice. Psychiatry residencies pay around $60,000 per year, while the average psychiatrist in America earned about $256,000 per year.

Another important difference to note is that a psychology degree is not needed to become a psychiatrist. A psychology degree is popular amongst those interested in pursuing a different track in the mental health field, such as a psychologist or a licensed mental health counselor. There is also the option to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, or a psychiatric physician assistant. Both of these positions offer a more medical side of mental health, but require much less training than a psychiatrist. If you’re interested in learning more about psychiatrists and psychiatry in general, read this article from BetterHelp.com.