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What Does a Psychiatrist Do?

How to Become a Psychiatrist - Featured Image

Looking for a job where you can explore human behaviour to diagnose, treat and prevent mental and emotional disorders? Well, a career as a psychiatrist may be the right path for you, and we’ve got the steps on how you may become one! 

It’s a challenging but fascinating branch of medicine that evaluates the mental and physical sides of psychological issues.

Want to find out more? Well, keep reading!  

Meet Ros
What is a Psychiatrist?
Steps to Becoming a Psychiatrist
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Psychiatrists

Meet Ros

We got to chat to Ros, a practising psychiatrist at NSW Health and Wellview Consulting Rooms, who walked us through the ins and outs of psychiatry and how you can get yourself there! 

Ros specialises in aged care psychiatry, so her work focusses on the mental health of older people. It deals with the study, treatment and prevention of cognitive impairment and mental issues that typically affect people of old age.   

How to Become a Psychiatrist - Quote

How did you end up in this role?

Ros studied medicine and surgery at uni and eventually transitioned to psychiatry as her chosen branch of medicine. As a psychiatrist, and one that focusses on old age psychiatry, Ros was drawn to the value of her position, and the impact she’s now able to have on other people’s lives. 

She explained, “It’s a good opportunity to help people to live better lives in terms of their mental health and to guide them and to give advice on their path to recovery. You have good opportunities for working across a range of different areas and to work flexibly and to have some choice in your work setting,”

Studies and Experience 

Once she finished high school, Ros began an undergraduate medical degree at the University of Queensland. Undergraduate degrees are becoming more and more difficult to get into these days, but we’ll run through the steps that you could pursue a little later. 

At UQ, Ros spent six years studying a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery degree. 

She explained, “The first three years focussed on basic sciences that were relevant to medicine. We started some clinical or hospital attachment-type work in our third year, but to a greater extent from fourth year onwards. We did a lot of clinical attachments at the hospital in various different areas.” 

In Ros’ undergraduate course, she undertook placements in various hospital areas. 

“For example, you might do a term in medicine, a term in surgery, a term in psychiatry… As well as other areas like general practice, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, just do you have a wide exposure to the different areas in medicine.” 

“Then when you graduate, you do one year as a house officer or intern before you become a fully registered medical practitioner.” 

Ros explained that once you’ve finished uni and your intern year, students will often go onto speciality training, where you choose where you’d like to focus your medical training.

In between placements, Ros had a break, worked, travelled, gained experience in different countries, before coming back to Sydney to join the Psychiatry Rotation at the Prince of Wales Hospital. Then, she finished her psychiatry training in the UK, which took about 6 years to complete. 

So, while it’s a long journey to psychiatry, it’s one that allows plenty of flexibility and travel! What could be better?!   

What made you want to work in this industry?

Ros was drawn to a position where she was able to help people and utilise the skills and knowledge she developed as a medical graduate. As an old age psychiatrist, she’s constantly working with the elderly, their families and other psychiatrists and psychologists to deliver appropriate treatment, medicine and preventative measures, with the end goal of improving their quality of life. 

If you’re looking for a rewarding career, one that revolves around helping others, perhaps psychiatry would be perfect for you!  

What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a type of medical doctor who specialises in the research and treatment that supports people with mental and psychological issues. These issues may include depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and addiction. 

As a psychiatrist, you’d be spending your days providing urgent care for extreme mental issues, devising long-term plans to support someone’s mental health condition, advising particular lifestyle changes and consulting with other doctors and professionals. 

Ros gave us the rundown on how one becomes a psychiatrist, “Psychiatry is a medical specialty. Psychiatrists, initially train as doctors, they do a medical undergraduate degree, and then after their basic year as a resident medical officer, then they choose psychiatry as their specialty.”

Ros explained that once you’ve gotten your medicine degree, psychiatry training will typically take about 5 years. This will account for a set of exams and assessments with the College of Psychiatrists in Australia and after that you’re qualified as a psychiatrist! 

“Being a psychiatrist generally means working with people with mental illnesses to help them along their own path to recovery. It has quite a wide range of subspecialties or areas of practice,” Ros shared.

Roles and Responsibilities 

Ros gave us a rundown of what a typical day would look like working at the hospital in the department of aged care. It’s a profession that varies day to day and will be dependent on patients’ needs and requirements. 

“One of the days I do, I go to an academic meeting or teaching session in the morning run by our consultation liaison psychiatry department. We’ll either discuss research or one of our psychiatric trainees will do a case presentation and talk about a particular topic,” she said. 

Ros explained that after these academic meetings, she’d usually do a ward round with one of the psychiatry trainees. She’ll take a look at the patients that the old age medical team has sent to the psychiatry department and provide advice on particular mental health conditions.

Then Ros will typically take a look at any referrals that have come in from general practitioners or various blood tests and brain scans that have come through. 

“Then in the afternoon, we have our multidisciplinary older people’s mental health team meeting. That’s where we talk about our patients that are under our care in the community.

“On a different day, I might start in my outpatient clinic, seeing our community patients there, talking to them and looking at how their mental health has been reviewed and see if any changes need to be made,” explained Ros.

It’s a jam packed day! But you can be certain that no shift will look the same, that’s always great if you’re someone that needs a little change from day to day.  

Which industries can this career be found in?

Since psychiatry is a branch of medicine, you’d be mainly positioned within a hospital or mental health institute.

Ros explained, “As a psychiatrist, you might be working in a public hospital setting or one of the public community health settings, like working with the community mental health teams for example.

Or you may be in private practice and actually, the majority of psychiatrists in Australia do work in private practice. Psychiatrists also may work in group practice or a private inpatient mental health setting,” 

What jobs do people sometimes confuse this with?

Psychiatry typically fits into the category of mental health advice and treatment. And you know what else fits into that category? Psychology. So it’s no wonder the two are often getting confused.

Luckily for us, there are major differences between the positions. We’ll run you through those differences now:

Psychiatrist vs Psychologist

The key difference between psychology and psychiatry is that psychiatrists are medical doctors whereas psychologists are not.

You could become a psychologist with a Bachelor of Psychology but psychiatry requires the completion of a medical degree. There’s a stark difference. 

You can learn more about a career as a psychologist here!

Because psychologists don’t possess a medical degree, they aren’t able to prescribe medication to clients. Instead, they’ll help clients through conversation and advice.

Psychiatrists on the other hand diagnose illness, prescribe treatment and are able to provide a variety of therapies for serious mental conditions. 

Characteristics and Qualities 

How to Become a Psychiatrist - Characteristics

According to JobOutlook, the top skills that a psychiatrist has include:

  • Active listening 
  • Social perceptiveness 
  • Reading comprehension 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Active learning 
  • Communication 

Working as a psychiatrist means you’ll be spending your days researching, understanding mental illnesses and communicating with patients. It’s a hands-on role that generally involves fostering relationships and connections with the people you’re working with and their families.

With this in mind, the ability to think critically, listen and understand, will be essential for a psychiatrist to possess. 

Ros told us, “I would say that good communication skills are important, particularly good listening skills and having an interest in other people to hear those stories. I think that it’s important to have good problem solving skills, and to be able to think critically about a problem to develop a good management plan.” 

The interest in medicine, human behaviour and the human brain will also make it easier to commit to such a studious role. 

Keep in mind that no one expects you to possess all of these skills right now. They’re qualities that you’ll develop along the way as you study, work and get to know the ins and outs of the job. 

Steps to Becoming a Psychiatrist 

You’ll need to be committed and dedicated to become a practising psychiatrist. There’ll be a lot of studying and determination involved but if you’re ready to put in the hard yards, we are certain that you’ll get there. 

What should you study?

We’ve laid out your very own 5-step plan to becoming a psychiatrist, from high school to the psychiatry office. Take a look! 

#1: Graduate high school with the prerequisites 

Your goal in Year 12 is to graduate with the subjects that you’ll need to study a degree in medicine. This will generally depend on the uni, but you can be fairly certain that you’ll need a pretty decent ATAR. 

You’ve got two major avenues when it comes to studying medicine. The first is an extremely competitive pathway straight into a Doctor of Medicine program or you can take a slight detour and study any kind of Bachelor’s degree before applying for a postgraduate program in medicine. 

The route straight into the Doctor of Medicine from Year 12 is only offered to a small amount of domestic students. It’s about as competitive as you can get, so if you don’t think that’s an option for you, you could always go for the second option. 

Some programs to consider for the Doctor of Medicine pathway include:

#2: Complete a Bachelor’s degree 

Since psychiatry is a branch of medicine, you’ll need to follow the same procedure as most medical professions. You’ll need that degree in medicine to progress to the required work experience and specialised psychiatry training. 

As we mentioned, unless you’re one of the special few who get straight into a medicine program, you’ll have to graduate with any type of Bachelor’s degree.

This would be a great chance to get a taster for what you want to focus on later. You could study medical science, psychology or cognitive science. 

Some undergrad degrees to consider include:

You’ll need to check the GPA requirements to get into Medicine later on. 

#3: Be accepted into a Medicine degree

Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree (meeting the GPA requirements), you’re eligible to sit the GAMSAT, the major exam used to see if you’re ready to study medicine. 

The GAMSAT or the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test requires a minimum score of 50 and it’s one that you’ll generally need to study for in your own time. 

You may need to undergo an interview process (after the GAMSAT) to successfully make it into a postgrad medicine degree. After that, you’re good to study! 

#4: Undergo practical experience 

Once you’ve graduated uni, you’re straight onto the next step. Well, you don’t have to go straight there.

In fact, Ros took a bit of a break in between studying and working before becoming a fully fledged psychiatrist, so don’t think you have to get through all this consecutively. You’ve got a bit of flexibility! 

Still, you’ll need one to two years medical experience in a hospital before specialising in psychiatry. This will give you a taster of what working will be like and whether it’s even what you want to do! 

#5: Complete training at RANZCP

After your degree and appropriate practical training, you’ll be able to apply to start the proper psychiatry training at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP).

This essential part of your journey to psychiatry will involve 5 years of training where you’ll rotate throughout the different wards in the hospital. So, you’ll work in areas like:

  • Child and adolescent psychiatry 
  • Addiction psychiatry
  • Adult psychiatry
  • Forensic psychiatry
  • Indigenous psychiatry
  • Old age psychiatry
  • Consultation-liaison psychiatry

This is the real deal! You’ll get to work around the hospital and work out which parts you like the most.

After that, you’re done! So, you’ve got at least 12 years of study and training before you’re a practising psychiatrist, but you’ll be learning so much! 

What will this career look like in the future?

You’ve probably got a good few years before you head to your psychiatrist’s office to find a robot sitting on the other side of the desk, asking you what’s wrong. 

While AI is growing and making its way into more and more human-run professions, psychiatry should be safe for a little while longer. The empathy and care provided by psychiatrists won’t be so easily replicated by robotics, but it’s not impossible! 

Ros said that in the short-term, she’d expect to see a rise in the use of tele-health, which has proven effective over the pandemic. 

“I think that tele-health will be used more. Obviously, we all prefer a psychiatrist who works face to face with people but this time has shown us that there are lots of things that we can do over tele-health.

I think there’ll be better treatments in the future as people make more discoveries of the brain, but this progress is being made all the time,” Ros said. 

How in-demand is this career?

Support, care and treatment for mental conditions is a growing field. While mental health issues have been synonymous with the human experience, it’s a conversation that’s becoming less stigmatised, so more people are searching for professional help.

With that said, the growing demand for mental health services means there’s also a growing need for psychiatrists.

So, it’s a growing area around the world and the great part is, it’s a job that, currently, only humans can pursue. We need the care and empathy that AI’s unable to provide. So, employability is on the rise for you psychiatrists! 

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise? 

The subspecialties of psychiatry, as Ros explained, include a wide scope of options. You may like to focus on general adult psychiatry or child psychiatry or older adult psychiatry, like Ros does. 

As a certified psychiatrist, you could even branch out to forensic psychiatry or even consultation liaison psychiatry, where you may give advice to media and surgical teams on their management of mental health issues.

Alongside adult, child and forensic psychiatry, you could also specialise in: 

  • Addiction psychiatry 
  • Neuropsychiatry
  • Perinatal and infant psychiatry 
  • Psychiatry of intellectual and developmental disabilities 
  • Psychiatric psychotherapy 

So, there’s a lot of options!

Salary 

According to JobOutlook, psychiatrists have a ‘very high skill’ level and make around $2,400 weekly.

Annual SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$124,000+Strong over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

Best Thing & Worst Thing

What do you enjoy most about this job?

While Ros struggled to single out the best part of her job, since there are so many positives, she said, “I would say the best part is being able to work with older people and to help them with their mental health — that’s the best thing about the job for me,”

“It’s about just having that job satisfaction of being able to help people live healthier lives.”

What do you enjoy least about this job?

“The worst thing about the job would be sometimes working in the public system, when there’s too much work, we’re overloaded and resources are stretched,” Ros told us. 

She added, “We’re also having to make those tough decisions around who would be prioritised and how challenging that can be sometimes. But I think that our training in medicine and in psychiatry definitely helps to prepare you for that.”

Advice for Aspiring Psychologists

What do you wish you had known before you started?

Ros wanted to make it clear that the psychiatry profession can be flexible. There’s a misconception that medical professionals have to work around the clock with no time for holidays.

While you will be spending a lot of your time working, Ros reminded us that there are still plenty of chances to take a break, travel and raise a family (if that’s something you’re hoping to do). 

“I wish someone told me that actually there is flexibility in psychiatry. If you want some work life balance, it’s a good specialty for that. Even in the public system, there are jobs that are advertised as part time for example,” shared Ros.

Job Flexibility

As Ros mentioned, there are plenty of chances to work flexibly, “Psychiatry appeals to that sense of adventure that you have when you’re a young person.”

What is the workplace culture like? 

Ros told us that she’s felt welcomed and valued in every workplace she’s practised in. 

“The culture has always been quite good. Certainly there’s a lot of respect. In the teams that I’ve worked in, everyone’s view is listened to and we can all collaborate together to help people with their mental health,” Ros said. 

She added, “I’ve never worked in a workplace where I felt that it was difficult or a toxic environment. Generally, everyone’s there because they have a passion for mental health and for helping people. The focus is really on doing that.” 


Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect! 

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