Skip to content

Student Hub

How to Become a Psychiatrist?


There are so many unique post secondary paths to consider, and one of them is in the field of psychiatry. If you have a natural interest in people, enjoy the social sciences and are intrigued by mental wellness, a career in psychiatry may be right for you.

Psychiatrists are not only one of the most important medical positions in Canada, but they are in high demand. This makes becoming a psychiatrist a promising and fulfilling career path for many Canadians. However, in order to become a psychiatrist, there are several steps you must take that we break down below. Keep reading to learn what they are and how to fulfill each requirement.

Begin your journey towards saving for your bachelor’s degree now by creating an RESP plan with guidance from a skilled financial advisor at Embark.

What is a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health disorders. Psychiatrists may specialize in specific types of mental health disorders, like depression, substance abuse and addiction, or personal disorders. They can also offer more generalized support, helping to treat patients dealing with a wide range of illnesses or disorders.

Finding your dream school shouldn't be rocket science.

What does a psychiatrist do?

On any given day, a psychiatrist may be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Conducting interviews, psychological tests, and other evaluations with patients
  • Reviewing the medical histories of patients
  • Analyzing the findings from the tests and evaluations they conduct
  • Prescribing appropriate medications and developing treatment plans for patients
  • Monitoring the progression of patients’ health following treatment
  • Modifying treatment plans as necessary

Psychiatrists vs. therapists or psychologists

There are many types of mental health professionals out there. Let’s compare them to the psychiatrist profession to get a better understanding of what you would be doing.

Like psychiatrists, therapists are also mental health professionals. That said, psychiatrists tend to work with patients suffering from more severe mental illnesses or disorders. Plus, psychiatrists can prescribe medication whereas therapists and psychologists cannot.

Psychologists or therapists typically rely more heavily on psychotherapy, known as talk therapy, as well as other behavioural approaches, such as cognitive behavioural therapy. In contrast, a psychiatrists primarily focus is the biological and neurological causes of mental health disorders.That said, psychiatrists often use a combination of approaches.

Another difference between these occupations is salary and education. Since you need a medical degree to become a psychiatrist, psychiatrists tend to be paid higher salaries than therapists or psychologists. Therapists and psychologists also need certain educational qualifications, but they are usually lower than psychiatrists, such as a master’s degree.

How long does it take to become a psychiatrist in Canada?

Due to the high level of schooling that is involved with becoming a psychiatrist in Canada, the process can take some time. Technically, the process should begin early by saving for post-secondary education. On top of this, you will need to apply to university, earn an undergraduate degree, enrol in medical school, and then complete a residency program.

We break down the length of time it takes to become a psychologist in Canada below:

  • Year 1-4: The majority of students take four years to complete their bachelor’s degree, which is a necessary step in order to continue down the career path of becoming a psychiatrist. Most students choose to major in psychology during their undergraduate degrees.
  • Year 5-9: After earning an undergraduate degree, you will need to apply for and attend medical school, which typically takes an additional four years to complete.
  • Year 10-14: The third and final stage of becoming a psychiatrist is to complete a residency program and receive board certification. This process usually takes four years.

All in all, most Canadian psychiatrists complete their qualifications in roughly 12 years but, depending on your programs, it can take up to 14 years.

A step-by-step guide to becoming a psychiatrist

Ready to become a psychiatrist? Learn how by following this step-by-step guide.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree

Step one is to earn a bachelor’s degree. If you want to be a psychiatrist and are still debating between university and college, you will have to opt for university because becoming a psychiatrist requires a bachelor’s degree. Although most students choose to major in psychology, this is not a requirement to becoming a psychiatrist. You will however need to select a major that teaches you advanced math and science.

2. Gain valuable experience

While completing your undergraduate degree, consider getting an internship or volunteering at a mental health service provider in your area. This will allow you to gain valuable insight into what it’s like to work as a psychiatrist or in the mental health field more generally.

3. Study for the MCAT

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, you will need to apply for medical school. But before you can do this, you must take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This is a standardized test that is part of the admissions requirements for medical programs in Canada.

The MCAT is rigorous, so be sure to start studying early. Experts suggest that students should study for the MCAT for a minimum of 200 hours. The MCAT tests your knowledge of a wide range of topics, including chemistry, psychology, and biology. If you fail it, you can retake it up to three times in one calendar year.

4. Apply for and attend medical school

You’ve taken the MCAT and you’re pleased with your score. Now what? It’s time to apply to medical school. You will need to choose between applying for a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. Both degrees give you the necessary training and education to become a psychiatrist. The only difference is that Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine programs usually provide a more holistic approach to medicine.

You should expect your medical degree to take roughly four years to complete. The first two years will largely be spent in the classroom or in labs, whereas the latter two years incorporate hands-on, practical experience working in clinics.

5. Complete a residency program

After graduating from medical school, it’s time to apply for a residency program. This is the last major step to becoming a psychiatrist, and it will take four or five years to complete. During your residency program, you will learn to treat people with mental health disorders in a clinical setting, such as at a hospital. The experience you gain will be invaluable and hands-on, as you will get to work directly with patients dealing with all sorts of mental health issues. You will be supervised by a trained and experienced psychiatrist throughout the entirety of your residency program.

6. Decide on a specialty (if applicable)

If you decide that you want to specialize in a specific area of psychiatry, such as forensic psychiatry, addiction psychiatry, or child psychiatry, you can decide this during or immediately following your residency. Should you choose a specialty, you may be required to train for an additional year under a licensed psychiatrist who specializes in the same field.

7. Become a licensed and certified psychiatrist

Step number seven is to become a licensed and certified psychiatrist, which is done by completing a series of exams and evaluations. Some of these you will have completed during your residency, such as the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) Part I and Part II.

At the end of your residency program, you will need to take the certification exam administered by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. You will need to pass this exam if you want to become a certified psychiatrist in Canada.

Please note that there may be additional licensing requirements you must meet depending on what Canadian province or territory you live in. However, no matter where you live, you will still need to abide by the criteria set out by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

8. Join the Canadian Psychiatrist Association

While not a requirement, many psychiatrists choose to join the Canadian Psychiatrist Association after becoming licensed. This association gives psychiatrists in Canada access to a wide range of professional resources. It also serves as an excellent networking opportunity.

9. Commit to a life of learning

The ninth and final step to becoming a psychiatrist in Canada is to commit to a life of learning. You will need to maintain your license if you want to continue working as a psychiatrist in Canada, which means continually educating yourself and staying on top of the latest research and studies in psychiatry.

Tips for becoming a successful psychiatrist in Canada

If you want to become a successful psychiatrist in Canada, follow the tips below:

Expand your knowledge in related fields

To become a great psychiatrist, it is important that you expand your knowledge of other related fields. For example, knowing about psychology isn’t enough. You should also learn about subjects like biochemistry, psychopharmacology, and more.

Work on your communication skills

As with any type of doctor, being able to communicate effectively with your patients and practice good bedside manner is of the utmost importance. Your patients need to feel listened to and comfortable expressing their deepest emotions. As a psychiatrist, it is your job to create a trusting environment that your patients feel safe expressing themselves in. In addition, you will need to work on your communication skills with other healthcare professionals or colleagues.

Stay up to date with the latest tools and therapies

In order to give the best possible care to your patients, psychiatrists should always try to stay up to date with the latest diagnostic tools and therapy. You can do this by subscribing to scholarly journals in your field or joining psychiatrist organizations, such as the Canadian Psychiatrist Association, which hosts a range of workshops and conferences throughout the year.

FAQs on how to become a psychiatrist in Canada

Written by Embark

Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.