A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who works with people of all ages. They specifically focus on the treatment of mental disease and things like developmental disabilities. As doctors, psychiatrists can prescribe medications or other treatments that may help address these conditions, and they work in diverse fields: standard hospitals, inpatient mental institutions, and with the public in private practice. A child psychiatrist is similar but usually has additional training that qualifies that person to work specifically with children and the mental or developmental conditions that may affect them. However, any psychiatrist can and may work with kids and adolescents.
Training to become a child psychiatrist begins with completion of a high school degree, and students are advised to take courses that lean heavily on the sciences, particularly biology and chemistry. Once a diploma is achieved, students go on to college where they must earn a four-year degree, usually a Bachelor of Science degree. Common majors for this profession are pre-med, but students with an interest in science may achieve a bachelor of science degree in another field.
To become a child psychiatrist, US students must take and score highly on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). This test is usually taken in the last year of undergraduate school. Most medical schools evaluate both grades and MCAT scores in order to determine admission, and those who have favorable grades and MCATs tend to be the first choices, especially to more prestigious schools.
Medical school will take three to four years, depending upon program, and during the last few years, students can start to determine if they’d like to specialize in a certain field. One of these fields is psychiatry. Those wishing to progress with their education will first need to pass medical school and receive board licensure as physicians, before applying to psychiatry training programs. A person who wants to be a licensed child psychiatrist will need an additional step after completing a three to four year internship program in psychiatry. Most will need to follow up with a two-year fellowship, where they focus specifically on treatment of mental illness in kids and adolescents.
In total, to become a child psychiatrist in the US, it will take approximately 14 years of studying and training. Then the prospective psychiatrist will take board examinations to be certified as a specialist in child psychiatry. It should be noted that each country may have a slightly different training path. Some may take more or less time, but most are roughly equivalent.
Along the way, those students interested in child psychiatry should get some hands on experience working with kids. Even in high school, it’s a good idea to take advantage of any volunteer opportunities that allow this work. Kids could choose to be camp counselors or assistants at camps working with developmentally disabled or emotionally disturbed children. They could volunteer for programs like the Special Olympics. Depending upon age, they may be able to volunteer in psychiatric hospitals that serve kids. Since this field truly requires ease in working with children, it’s important that people entering it either have a natural bent toward work with kids or develop it with lots of volunteer activities.
In addition to the extensive training involved to become a child psychiatrist, those interested in the field should understand that this job can be inherently difficult. People can work with kids in the worst stages of emotional distress, and with those who have been severely abused. This doesn’t mean satisfaction doesn't exist in this field, and it is perhaps most satisfying when doctors are able to help patients find healing despite extremely trying circumstances or a heavy burden of illness.