How Do I Get a PhD in Psychiatry?

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  • Written By: A. Reed
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2020
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The doctorate (PhD) in psychiatry is a research and teaching degree in the field of medicine that focuses on studying the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disease. To get your PhD in psychiatry, you will first need to complete medical school and obtain your license to practice as a physician, followed by resident training in psychiatry. Certain medical schools offer physician-scientist tracks in which both the medical degree and PhD in psychiatry are conferred, which is the better option, although highly competitive.

Getting into medical school requires a bachelor's degree in any discipline that you choose as long as you complete the pre-medical (pre-med) coursework. Although many students take on majors in various sciences like biology or chemistry, this is not required. Pre-med courses are biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics, all of which must be taken with a laboratory for one year each. Depending on your high school record, you may need to take prerequisite courses before you will be permitted to take pre-med classes. It is important to do very well in all of your courses, as applying to medical school is intensely competitive.


Some medical schools offer a combined medical and PhD in psychiatry track. Referred to as MD/PhD programs, medical students complete both medical school and the PhD in psychiatry simultaneously over a seven- to eight-year period. This could also be an option, as you would apply to an MD/PhD psychiatry program when you have completed your pre-medical coursework and bachelor's degree. MD/PhD programs are even more competitive to gain admission to. Research experience is essential for acceptance consideration into MD/PhD psychiatry programs.

If you do not get admitted to a physician-scientist track, you'll still need to complete residency upon finishing the regular medical school course of study. Residency is the training that you take to complete your specialty in psychiatry. This will qualify you as a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who focuses on diagnosis and treatment of mentally-ill patients. You'll need to apply to a doctorate program in psychiatry after finishing your residency. Most PhD programs are offered in a specialized discipline, such as molecular psychiatry or forensic psychiatry, as few schools offer a PhD in general psychiatry apart from the MD/PhD tracks, but this varies according to the region.

Some people find that they don't want to become medical doctors, but are interested in psychology. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe drugs and other treatment. Clinical psychologists, who have completed a doctorate but have not attended medical school, typically do not treat with drugs although this is changing as certain regions are permitting them to do so with additional education.


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