The path to becoming a psychiatrist is long, requiring more than a decade in higher education. It starts with an undergraduate degree in which prospective psychiatrists often follow a "pre-med" sequence of courses that includes biology, chemistry, physics and math. Then comes medical school, which is a four-year journey comprising classroom learning, several day-long exams and a series of clinical rotations providing practical exposure to medical specialties. Yet graduation from medical school is just the "end of the beginning".
After setting their sights on psychiatry, a freshly minted medical doctor must obtain admission to an accredited residency program. There are approximately 250 such programs in the United States. These four-year programs combine on-the-job training with specialized teaching in psychiatric science by professors in psychiatry. Upon graduating from such a program, physicians will have gained experience across the full range of psychiatric practice, from in-patient settings featuring patients with acute mental disorders to out-patient clinics in the community or college campuses.
Finally, after at least 12 years of intensive study and clinical practice, a would-be psychiatrist's training culminates in an eight-hour examination. Set by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, this exam covers the full range of subject matter that psychiatrists are expected to master. Only after passing this exam can a physician claim to be Board-certified in psychiatry. The ABPN certifies about 1,500 new psychiatrists each year. This is actually slightly less than the number of psychiatrists retiring each year, which is why the United States faces a growing psychiatrist shortage.
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