The specialty of psychiatry originated in Ancient India, with the oldest texts of this medical practice found in the Ayurvedic text called the Charaka Samhita. Some of the first hospitals that humans established to treat the conditions that a psychiatrist would work with today were established around the 3rd century BC in this region.
Despite the initial push in medical science that established psychiatric clinics, it would be more than 800 years before humanity recognized that psychotic traits were not supernatural in their origin. It wouldn’t be until the 19th century when this practice as a medical specialty was recognized in modern society, although there were individuals who practiced in this field since the early 1700s.
Most of the early attitudes toward mental illness involved separation because it was thought that no one could recover from such an incident. When King George III of England experienced remission of his condition in 1789, these health issues began to be seen as something that could be treated and cured.
If you’re thinking about becoming a psychiatrist, then here are some of the pros and cons that go along with that decision.
List of the Pros of Being a Psychiatrist
1. Your work as a psychiatrist lets you help others every day.
The most significant benefit of being a psychiatrist is that your work allows you to help someone every day. Your profession is entirely devoted to finding ways to provide assistance to those who need it. Whether you are working with someone who suffers from a mental health issue, a traumatic experience, or substance abuse problems, the work that you do will slowly help to make that person’s life better.
You might not earn as much money in your role as a psychiatrist as you would as a medical doctor, but the gratification that comes with helping other people can make up for some of that loss. Your work will help people to improve the quality of their life.
2. There is a lot of variety to your schedule every day.
Being a psychiatrist means that you never really know what is going to happen during your working day. Even if you see the same patient repetitively, there are changes in their life that can alter their behaviors or choices. You’ll see people dealing with stressful situations because of their challenging circumstances. Some patients might be trying to manage a hereditary disorder. Depression is a common diagnosis with which you’ll be working if you find a place in this career. There are even opportunities for you to pursue investigative communication. Then you can prescribe medication as needed to help people put the correct foot forward as each day goes by.
You will get to work with new people every day when you choose this career. These individuals will come from many different cultures and backgrounds. That means the reward of helping children, couples, and adults achieve their full potential can outweigh many of the disadvantages you might experience each day.
3. You’ll have a variety of work environments from which to choose.
When you start working as a psychiatrist, then you’ll have the opportunity to start working in a variety of different environments. You’ll find job opportunities in psychiatric hospitals, mental health clinics, and institutions that operate through state and federal funding. Some psychiatrists work with schools or companies to help treat people who survive traumatic incidents, such as a school shooting or a public suicide.
You also have the option as a psychiatrist to start a private practice. This option tends to be the one that offers the highest salary potential, especially in the United States where you can set whatever rate the local market supports for your services.
4. This work provides psychiatrists with a high level of financial stability.
The median wage for a psychiatrist working in the United States is quickly approaching $200,000 per year. You can earn more than three times that amount in private practice in some geographical locations. There are some variables to this advantage that might not apply in every situation, but you also have a lot more employment security in this health and wellness practice than in other jobs.
Money frequently ranks psychiatry as one of the 50 best jobs that you can hold in the U.S. each year. The need for psychiatrists is expected to expand in the next decade as well even with the increasing salary needs, with the rate projected at 14% – placing this profession at the same level as nurses.
5. There are several opportunities for growth and development.
Working as a psychiatrist provides you with several opportunities for advancement, personal growth, and professional recognition each year. You don’t even need to be practicing to earn a decent salary thanks to the teaching and mentoring opportunities that exist in this field. There are also research studies where you can have a positive impact on the overall profession. If you feel the itch to try something new after you make it through the extensive educational requirements to be an active professional, then there are ways to scratch it without giving up everything you’ve worked hard to accomplish.
6. You’ll get an opportunity to form professional relationships.
A 2015 report from Medscape looking at the compensation levels of psychiatrists found that about 30% of practicing professionals said that the patient relationships they developed are the most rewarding aspect of their job. The gratitude that people have for helping them create a new life for themselves makes many of the disadvantages feel like they are manageable. Since many psychiatrists are also self-employed, there is a lot of room in which to work to create a satisfying practice in your community. You can even earn up to $30,000 more per year if you work by yourself instead of being employed in a more traditional manner.
List of the Cons of Being a Psychiatrist
1. The cost of your education is going to be higher than other career options.
Even though you can earn a relatively high salary when working as a psychiatrist, you’ll need an extensive amount of schooling to become authorized to practice in the first place. You’ll need to earn an undergraduate degree in this field, and then pursue a medical degree that allows you to proceed to the licensing component of this work. You’ll also need to complete specialized training in this field, complete a 4-year residency, and face similar economic hardships before those paychecks start coming in for you.
According to 2014 data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 84% of the graduates accumulated a median debt level of $170,000 to $200,000 before they earned an opportunity to find their first job. This cost continues to rise at a rate of about 3% each year. It typically requires 12 years of school for students to qualify as a graduate to gain licensing.
2. There are times when you’ll work with patients who may not find a cure.
The nature of the illnesses and health issues that a psychiatrist attempts to treat means that you’re often looking for stability instead of a cure. Even when you’re working with someone struggling with addiction, that person’s battles can extend to the rest of their life. There are some semi-permanent solutions that you can develop as a treatment plan with medication and ongoing therapies, but this doesn’t serve as an actual cure. Most patients tend to need lifelong treatments to manage their condition.
3. It can be challenging to develop an accurate diagnosis.
Psychiatrists work with a wide variety of patients who can suffer from a vast array of health issues. Many of the issues can be challenging to identify because they manifest as psychological programs instead of physical ones. There are times when there will be zero standardized testing options available to you in this line of work. It will be up to your experience, education, and intuition to discover what a patient’s problem might be.
Even when you do find the correct answer to a person’s health concerns, you may lack the ability to administer the treatment plan personally. It is not unusual for someone with bipolar disorder to stop taking their medication. Some people might think that there is nothing wrong with them, so they decide to disagree with your diagnosis and refuse to come back.
4. It can be challenging to find a work-life balance in psychiatry.
Although psychiatrists do have a better work-life balance than other doctors, especially when compared to surgeons and physicians, there is still a significant amount of time dedicated to patient appointments each day. About 30% of psychiatrists say that they spend over 40 hours per week meeting with people, while another 40% spend at least 30 hours in their appointments. Then there are further time commitments above that time to review, write, or plan patient notes. You will have on-call responsibilities in some situations as well when you work in this career.
5. Psychiatry is a highly stressful career option to consider.
Most psychiatrists find themselves working between 6-8 hours per day in appointments, with some needing evenings and weekends to get caught up on all of the paperwork. It is stressful from these circumstances and in the fact that your work requires you to listen to others as they express their frustrations, problems, and disappointments. You must find a place of peace where you can escape when times become difficult. There must also be an ability to separate oneself and their career from the rest of their personal life.
If you are unable to manage this disadvantage successfully, then you can find yourself becoming the victim of stress, anxiety, illness, and depression.
6. You must abide by the doctor-patient relationship.
Psychiatrists are in a unique position because most doctors consult with them instead of it being the other way around. That means this work can feel like an isolating experience. Federal law in the United States prohibits you in this role from violating the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship. That means you cannot reveal or discuss anything specific that you talk about within these boundaries.
This frustration often manifests itself at home because a psychiatrist cannot talk with their family at night about the work they did during the day. You can’t even discuss patients with your colleagues unless you have written permission from a patient to do so.
7. You’ll earn less as a psychiatrist than in other medical professions.
Psychiatrists are doctors, and they often spend more time with their patients than the average provider in the healthcare industry. They’ll usually earn less than what most other medical doctors make despite these time limits. Another issue that this profession faces are the limits that insurance companies place on the number of covered visits they permit. This barrier often prevents a patient from receiving the full amount of care they require to begin returning to a healthy state of mind.
8. There are high levels of prejudice directed toward psychiatrists.
It is not unusual for society to look down on the conditions that a psychiatrist attempts to treat. Although this perspective is incorrect, the idea that dealing with these mental concerns is evidence of personal weakness is an attitude that continues to persist. Some people don’t even see psychiatry as a legitimate medical practice. These prejudices endure even in the face of qualified research studies, so it is an ongoing issue with which you must cope if your goal is to break into this field.
9. There are physical dangers to consider in your work as a psychiatrist.
The people with whom psychiatrists work can have a questionable state of mind at times. That means you are at a higher risk of being exposed to potential physical threats or acts of violence while performing your duties. In the 1990s, the people working in this profession experienced a rate of non-fatal violent acts of 68.2 incidents per 1,000 people. That’s about five times higher than what physicians face, and it is also six times higher than what the average worker in the United States faces while trying to complete their job duties.
The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that over 30% of psychiatrists say that they’ve been assaulted by a patient at least once in their careers. When asked about verbal threats from the people they serve, that percentage rises to 96% in some surveys.
10. There are high levels of burnout in this profession.
Psychiatrists are often prone to burnout because of the work that they do. It is not unusual for individuals in this field to fall victim to compassion fatigue. When this issue occurs, then there is a high level of decreased job engagement. Many appointments are filled with emotionally-charged conversations that can eventually lead to cynicism, indifference, and a lack of energy. If you’re working in a self-employed capacity, then there are more non-billable hours to manage when juggling the details of the paperwork that is necessary. You’ll have insurance expenses and other start-up costs to manage too, which can lead some people to decide that throwing in the towel is a better option.
11. Solo practitioners will have administrative duties to manage.
About one-third of psychiatrists list themselves as being self-employed. Most operate their own practices in this capacity. When you launch your business, then you’ll need to obtain malpractice insurance, business licenses, and a building or office space to lease so that you’re not seeing patients at your home. Then you’ll need to acquire all of the office equipment needed to provide services to the individuals who need care that you’ll need to find too.
Once you start making some appointments, there will be billing issues that you’ll need to resolve. Processing and collecting payments is usually a full-time job that an administrative assistant can provide for you – which means having enough money to support an employee. You’ll need to pursue patients who don’t pay their bills and all of the other unpleasantness that managing money provides.
As with most medical professions, working as a psychiatrist requires a specific mindset that some people have, and others do not. Your ability to diagnose and treat the health conditions of your patients comes from a robust ability to listen. You will need to show compassion to those who struggle with substance abuse, anxiety, or depression. If these traits seem challenging, then this career option might not be the best choice.
There are some specific pros and cons of being a psychiatrist that you’ll want to review before pursuing this career option. Women earn an average of $26,000 less per year when compared to men according to Medscape, and there can be challenges in finding a work-life balance with your work.
If you enjoy the idea of working in a mental health career and love helping others, then you have the foundation necessary to become an excellent psychiatrist one day.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.