The academic road to becoming a psychiatrist is long and arduous. Every aspiring psychiatrist first has to earn a college degree, then complete medical school, only to be followed by multiple years of residency requirements. The demands of the bachelor’s degree are the least restrictive since the goal is general preparation for matriculation into a medical school. Depending on the school in question, this may not even require any specific set of courses or only a smattering of general science offerings. In many cases, your performance on the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam, will be considerably more important than your choice of undergraduate curriculum.

Undergraduate Psychiatry Programs

New York University offers an undergraduate course in brain imaging.
New York University offers an undergraduate course in brain imaging.

Some undergraduate schools offer programs singularly devoted to preparing students for a career in psychiatry. For example, New York University offers a Medical Student Education Program in Psychiatry specifically designed as a springboard into medical school. While some of the curriculum is standard fare for premed students, a good deal of the class offerings, such as studies in schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and brain imaging, are more narrowly curtailed to accommodate an interest in psychiatry.

Chemistry

Chemistry is an important subject for any psychiatrist.
Chemistry is an important subject for any psychiatrist.

According to Columbia University’s premed program, it’s common for premed students to be required to take one semester of some general chemistry course and another that more specifically focuses on chemistry laboratory work. Psychiatrists have a deep comprehension of the chemical processes occurring in the brain, and since they can prescribe medicine, they must understand the impact drugs can have on neurological health. Given the emphasis on chemistry in any medical school training, it’s wise to get a head start while still an undergraduate.

Biology

A psychiatrist needs a deep comprehension of the human body.
A psychiatrist needs a deep comprehension of the human body.

At the very least, it’s necessary for a future psychiatrist to take an introductory course in biology, the kind generally required of any premedical student. However, according to Columbia University, it might be prudent to take some additional, related offerings as well such as biochemistry, cellular or molecular biology, and physiology. Keep in mind that in contrast to a psychologist a psychiatrist must master the ins and outs of the human body.

Psychology

Psychology and psychiatry share much common ground.
Psychology and psychiatry share much common ground.

As you might imagine, a lot of academic overlap exists between psychology and psychiatry. Both are concerned with diagnosing and treating healthy and dysfunctional human behavior. In order to familiarize yourself with the basic theories regarding the nature of human behavior, it’s smart to take a psychology course or two. According to Columbia University, the new MCAT that debuts in 2015 will have a section on the social sciences with a focus on psychology.