Psychiatry is a medical field that specializes in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of health conditions related to the mind such as depression, hereditary disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, behavioral problems, trauma, and stress among others. Understanding of the human brain has become more advanced in this era of neuroscience. Thanks to new research and innovation, psychiatry now plays an important role in managing mental illnesses, which have been on the rise in recent years. If you’re looking for an exciting occupation within the medical field, where you can make a real difference in other people’s lives, then psychiatry is worth considering.
Part of your job as a psychiatrist will be to:
- Analyze tests to form a diagnosis
- Provide general care
- Prescribe medication
- Treat patients depending on the needs of the patient using a variety of methods, including medications, hospitalization, psychotherapy, or brain stimulation therapies like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
- Help manage long-term mental problems
- Work with other medical professionals to plan or provide treatment
- Offer advice on lifestyle changes, and so on
Becoming a psychiatrist is hard work. Brace yourself for many years of study and the challenges that come with the job. But if you can listen and show compassion for someone who’s struggling with mental illness, then psychiatry can be a rewarding career in many ways. Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a psychiatrist to help you decide if it’s the right occupation for you:
10 Pros of Being a Psychiatrist:
1. A variety of career path
There’s a wide range of mental illnesses and different psychiatric treatments are available for each one. No two patients have the same psychiatric presentation. Luckily, psychiatry is a diverse discipline, and aspiring psychiatrists can choose to specialize further in areas they are most interested in. Whether you’re interested in helping children, adults, or a more specified field like the legal system, you can choose from the many sub-specialties in this field.
Some of them include:
- Substance abuse psychiatry
- Child and adolescent psychiatry
- Geriatric Psychiatry
- Biological psychiatry
- Forensic psychiatry
- Emergency psychiatry, etc
2. Various work environments
Just as there are several psychiatry sub-specialties to pursue, there’s also a wide variety of settings for psychiatrists to work in. As a psychiatrist –whether a local or an expat –you’ll be able to seek employment in private practices, general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, mental health clinics, rehabilitation centers, residential care facilities, NGOs, university medical centers, schools, local and state government, corporations, the judicial system, emergency rooms, and so on.
3. An opportunity to play a leading role in mental health
People suffering from mental illness usually need treatment for other medical problems as well. This requires the input of different health professionals, including GPs, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and/or occupational therapists. Psychiatrists have a holistic understanding of the physical, mental, behavioral, and social aspects of mental health; as such, they are typically the leader of this team. Psychiatrists also work hand-in-hand with other professionals such as in prisons and justice systems. When the team is successful, credit is given to the leader –the psychiatrist.
4. Helping others
As a psychiatrist, you’ll have the power to change someone’s life for the better. The gratification obtained from helping someone overcome mental health problems is the main reward for doing this job. Whether a patient is suffering from depression, a traumatic experience, difficult circumstances, anxiety, eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or any other cause of mental illness, a psychiatrist is well-equipped to diagnose and treat them using a variety of methods.
5. Demand is high
The demand for psychiatrists is high and expected to increase in the coming years. Stigmas surrounding mental health are slowly disappearing, which is why more and more people are looking for help from health professionals. The demand for psychiatrists has also risen due to the increased mental awareness, the growing aging population, the increase in mental illnesses, and expanded insurance coverage among other things.
6. Salaries are attractive
With such a huge demand for qualified psychiatrists, it’s no surprise that they are paid well for their services. The annual average salary for psychiatrists is about $220,000. This figure varies depending on the employer and the geographic location among other things. For instance, salaries may be lower in small, rural health clinics, but more in a larger hospital system. Those who own private practice make even more than those who are employed.
7. Job security
As with most jobs in the medical field, being a psychiatrist comes with a high level of job security. This is likely because more and more people are becoming susceptible to mental illnesses. There’s also an increasing shortage of doctors who specialize in behavioral health. The job growth is also excellent for those in the psychiatry filed.
8. Growth opportunities
The field of psychiatry has many opportunities for advancement, growth, and recognition. Apart from practicing psychiatry, psychiatrists can transition into teaching at the university, mentor students with an interest in the field, offer consultation services, or undertake research studies that could positively impact the field of psychiatry. Research work can earn a psychiatrist industry-wide recognition.
9. Self-employment opportunities
Qualified, experienced, and licensed psychiatrists with an entrepreneurial spirit can go ahead and open a private practice. Statistics show that nearly half of all psychiatrists maintain a private practice. Being your own boss offers increased flexibility in terms of working hours, and the kind of freedom many professionals only dream of having. It also offers attractive rewards income-wise.
If you’re looking for a profession in the medical field where you can work a normal day, it is being a psychiatrist. You’ll generally be ‘on-call’ less, and your working hours will be closer to the normal business hours. Given that many psychiatrists study while working to advance their careers, several training programs make it possible for them to manage their training and job, as well as meet family responsibilities. It’s easy to have a great work-life balance in this field that most jobs in the medical field don’t offer.
10 Cons of Being a Psychiatrist
1.Lengthy educational process
To become a psychiatrist, you have to complete four years of undergraduate studies, then go to medical school for four years, and then attend residency for another four years. It takes at least 12 years for one to become a qualified psychiatrist. At this point, you can gain licensure to practice. Pursuing a sub-specialty means more school. Coursework is vast and typically includes mathematics and science courses. Be prepared for a challenging, sleep-deprived, and stressful years.
2. Costly education
With all these years of studying and the fact that medical school is very costly, it’s only a matter of time before aspiring psychiatrists experience a huge financial burden. The actual cost of education will depend on the type of school, location, and personal expenses. Expat students will likely spend more than local students. Huge educational debt makes it harder for psychiatrists to save for the future or open their private practice.
3. Erratic hours
Although psychiatrists enjoy a flexible schedule than most doctors, irregular hours and overtime are common. A patient’s issue can arise at any time that requires your attention. You may have to work evenings, over the weekend, and even during the holidays. This is especially true for those who are new to psychiatric practice.
4. Physical risks
Violence is a common act in a psychiatrist’s office. When treating people who are mentally ill or chemically dependent, they can become intense and threaten to harm themselves or the people around them. Some patients even blame their psychiatrists for their problems. In severe cases, psychiatrists can be mortally wounded. Stalking is also common; unfortunately, psychiatrists aren’t skilled in how to deter or deal with stalkers. This can pose a threat of physical danger. Those who are prone to such violence cannot be ignored since they are the ones who need help the most.
5. Exposure to lawsuits
As with any medical profession, psychiatrists face the likelihood of being sued. The relationship psychiatrists have with their patients is an intensely personal one; as such, any errors or missteps on the psychiatrist’s part can have significant consequences on their patient(s). Lawsuits in this field are usually because of misdiagnosis, improper prescriptions, exploitation of the trust relationship, and third-party liability among other things. Medical malpractice cases are time-consuming, costly, and can ruin one’s reputation.
Having to constantly take on other people’s problems and finding solutions to them can be physically and mentally draining. Psychiatrists usually spend 6-8 hours listening to people as they pour out their problems and frustrations. It’s important to have an extremely high level of serenity and separate your job from your personal life. If not, you might begin suffering from the same stressors as your patients. There’s also an extreme amount of pressure usually placed on psychiatrists, which puts them at risk of developing anxiety or even depression.
Psychiatrists experience emotionally charged sessions with their patients regularly. This makes them prone to developing a secondary trauma response, commonly known as ‘compassion fatigue‘ in medical terms. This, coupled with other stressors that come with the job can lead to decreased enthusiasm and energy, indifference, doubtfulness, and an overall negative feeling towards the job. This decreased job engagement is what’s referred to as burnout, and it can cause ineffectiveness in the workplace.
8. Running a private practice can be challenging
While starting your own practice has many perks, it’s no walk in the park. Self-employed psychiatrists face issues that those who are employed don’t face. For starters, they have to find office space, address start-up costs, not to mention monthly costs like utilities and marketing can add up pretty fast. They also have to deal with insurance companies, bureaucratic tasks and spend a lot of time handling the paperwork.
Psychiatrists go through the same rigorous education as medical doctors and spend more time with the patient, but generally, earn less. Insurance companies also place unreasonable limits on the amount of care a psych patient may receive. Also, psychiatric illnesses still face stigma and a lot of people view them as a sign of personal weakness and not true medical issues. All these prejudices can affect the care that people who really need it can get.
10. Diagnostic difficulties
Psychiatrists are required to help with a wide range of mental health issues. Most of these problems are difficult to identify, let alone treat. While there are tests available within the psychiatry field to assist with diagnosis, many conditions don’t have standardized testing methods that psychiatrists can use to get a clear-cut diagnosis. This increases the chances of misdiagnosis and patients could end up not getting the kind of help they truly need.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.