Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health concerns. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication and must go to medical school and complete a specialized psychiatric residency after college. A college student planning on becoming a psychiatrist must have a strong foundation in the sciences as well as psychology to prepare for both medical school and their future career. Because of the number of prerequisites for entering medical school, many future psychiatrists major in a science, although many double-major in psychology as well. Medical schools often find that the strongest applicants are those who can prove that they are well-rounded, not only successful in the sciences.
College students planning on becoming psychiatrists may earn a degree from any major, since pre-med is most commonly an educational track rather than a specific major. Pre-med students, however, regardless of major, need a strong science background to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, as well as the medical school curriculum. To prepare for the MCAT, students should complete two semesters each of general biology, general chemistry and physics, all with labs. In addition, students should take a semester of organic chemistry with lab. Generally, students planning on going to medical school should earn a score of B or higher in these courses.
After completing introductory science coursework, students should move on to more advanced, specific science classes. Anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, cell biology and embryology are generally recommended by medical school admissions boards for prospective medical students. These courses are helpful in preparing for the MCAT as well.
Future psychiatrists should take several psychology courses, along with the common pre-med prerequisites. Introductory psychology is highly recommended, as it is a general survey class that familiarizes students with the history and various theories of psychology. Topics covered in this course include memory, conditioning and learning and abnormal behavior. Courses in research methods and statistics will be useful for future research, and an abnormal psychology or a related psychopharmacology course would be invaluable for a future psychiatrist. Additional electives, like clinical psychology or child psychology, may prove helpful for those planning to sub-specialize.
Knowledge of mathematics through pre-calculus is necessary for the MCAT, although almost all medical schools require calculus for admission. A statistics class is often required of students before admittance as well, as it deals with the basic collection and interpretation of data. Many schools, like Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, require either statistics or calculus.
Medical schools often require certain non-science electives, like English composition, communications and history, to demonstrate a student's communication and analytical skills. Pre-med students will want to hone these skills for the Verbal Reasoning section of the MCAT. Prospective psychiatrists in particular should use these courses to display an ability to understand and interact with a diverse group of people. Additionally, courses in philosophy and history will help prospective psychiatrists with their reasoning skills. Learning a foreign language is highly recommended for those working in the medical field, as it could increase the client base.
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