How to Become a Pediatric Psychiatrist: Education and Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a pediatric psychiatrist. Research the education and career requirements, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in pediatric psychiatry.

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Pediatric Psychiatrists

Pediatric psychiatrists are medical doctors who are trained to identify psychological problems in children and adolescents. They may work with patients who display depression or antisocial symptoms and behaviors, or those born with pre-existing conditions, such as autism or attention deficit disorder. Pediatric psychiatrists prescribe treatment plans using psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, hospitalization, and/or medication.

Pediatric psychiatrists may work in hospitals, in-patient care centers, or operate their own private practices. Those who work in 24-hour care centers may have irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Private practice psychiatrists, including pediatric psychiatrists, generally have more control over their schedules. This job can be very rewarding and emotionally difficult, depending on the patients and the issues they are working through.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Degree Field Psychiatry with a specialization in pediatrics
Training 4 years of residency training
Licensure and Certification State medical license and board certification in general psychiatry required; voluntary specialty certification available
Key Skills Communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision making skills, detail-oriented, possess good judgment, empathy, and patience
Salary *$213,373 per year (2020 median salary for pediatric psychiatrists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, * (February 2020)

Become a Pediatric Psychiatrist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to becoming a pediatric psychiatrist is earning a bachelor's degree, which is required for medical school admissions. Some students begin by majoring in biology or another science, while others pursue a degree in psychology, liberal arts, or humanities. Many schools give students of any major the opportunity to enroll in a pre-medical program. This allows students to learn about the health profession and get first-hand knowledge of medical research, educational opportunities, and philosophies in various fields of medicine. Courses include general biology, anatomy, genetics, biochemistry, and organic chemistry.

Step 2: Prepare for Medical School

Students need to start the process of applying to medical school well before graduation. First, they must take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which evaluates a student's knowledge of the sciences and liberal arts, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Applications are then submitted using a service, such as the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). Medical school admission is highly competitive, and students need to go beyond excelling in school in order to stand out. Volunteering or interning can serve as a way to acquire leadership skills while gaining hands-on experience working with patients. Aspiring pediatric psychiatrists have the option to volunteer at local mental health centers or hospitals.

Additionally, aspiring pediatric psychiatrists should establish solid relationships with college advisors and faculty. Mentors can help students strategize a path through college, offer knowledge about medical schools and, when the time comes, provide letters of recommendation.

Step 3: Earn a Medical Degree

Medical school usually consists of a 4-year program. The first two years typically involve classroom and laboratory instruction, covering topics such as anatomy, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, pharmacology, and biochemistry. There are also courses that can aid future pediatric psychiatrists, such as pediatric medicine, family history, genetics, and human behavior. The final two years of medical school are dedicated to supervised clinical experience.

Students might also consider a combined M.D./Ph.D. program. Many medical schools offer M.D./Ph.D. programs, which last between 6 to 7 years. In that time, medical students can focus on a specialty through research and clinical courses. Clinical and research opportunities provide the chance to witness assessment and treatment in the field, as well as to become aware of cutting-edge research.

Step 4: Complete an Internship and Residency

Potential pediatric psychiatrists must be accepted into a certified psychiatric internship and residency program. A number of hospitals, particularly children's hospitals, offer this specialization. The 1-year internship program is typically followed by a 4-year residency, two years of which is focused on general psychiatry. The final two years delve into the pediatric and adolescent specialization. There is also an integrated program, which is five years in length and allows training for pediatric psychiatry to begin in the first or second year of residency.

Step 5: Get a Physician's License

Psychiatrists must become licensed physicians by passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. This license is required regardless of specialization. Licensing requirements and renewal procedures vary by state, with some licensing boards allowing reciprocity between states.

Step 6: Become Board Certified in General Psychiatry

Before practicing with children and adolescents, professional pediatric psychiatrists must obtain certification in general psychiatry from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Certification requires a degree from an accredited medical school and a current state medical license. Additionally, candidates must take and pass an exam. Board certification must be renewed every 10 years.

To remain licensed and certified, pediatric psychiatrists are required to continue learning throughout their careers. Continuing education options include self-assessment activities, workshops, seminars, and classes offered by approved institutions.

Step 7: Consider Board Certification in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

To further advance in pediatric psychiatry, individuals can earn voluntary certification in their specialty by passing the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP) exam, which is administered by the ABPN. Before taking the exam, applicants need a letter from their psychiatry training director certifying competencies and pointing out any areas still in need of completion.

To summarize, aspiring pediatric psychiatrists need to complete a Doctor of Medicine program as well as a psychiatry internship and residency. Licensure and board certification is also required.

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