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A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) or sometimes osteopathic doctor (D.O.) who specializes in treatment of mental illnesses. As such, psychiatrist programs are medical school programs, but they may vary depending on the state or country where they are found. All psychiatrist programs give a background in general medicine as well as in mental health treatments.
Prospective students should not confuse psychiatrist programs with psychologist programs. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who performs psychotherapy, gives medical diagnoses, and prescribes drugs. On the other hand, a psychologist may work as a psychotherapist or psychological researcher, but cannot give medical advice. A psychologist must hold a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy. D.) degree, rather than an M.D.
Most psychiatrist programs are part of traditional medical schools. They generally involve one year of general medical courses, followed by three years of specialized study in psychiatry, and then a residency program. Some psychiatry programs allow students or residents to specialize further within the field of psychiatry. Students may choose to take extra courses or do their residency in areas like child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatrics, general adult psychiatry, or community psychiatry.
A few osteopathic medical schools also have psychiatrist programs. Osteopathic programs are generally designed to train primary care physicians in a holistic manner. In other words, osteopathic doctors often have a greater emphasis on community health and disease prevention than traditional doctors. They also focus on the effects of the body's structure and skeletal system on overall health. Some osteopathic doctors may go on to receive training in psychiatry, however, and in the US and some other countries they are considered fully qualified doctors.
The process for licensing and certification of psychiatrists varies from state to state. Usually, a medical school will tailor its psychiatrist programs to the requirement for the state where it is located. Students wishing to practice medicine in a state other than where they attend medical school should be sure that they complete requirements for both states.