Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

What to do in High School to Become a Psychiatrist

3 minute read

Psychiatry offers a fulfilling career blending science, patient relationships, and service to society. As a medical specialty focusing on mental health, psychiatrists diagnose and treat a mental health condition through psychotherapy, medication, hospitalization, and other interventions. Pursuing this profession takes dedication spanning from high school through medical residency. For those considering the psychiatrist career path, below are impactful steps to take in high school to steer your trajectory toward psychiatry.

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Academic Foundations

Aim for a rigorous course load in high school and university with special emphasis on the following subjects: 

  • Biology – Understand living systems and behavior. 

  • Chemistry – Mastery of organic and biological chemistry is critical for grasping neuroscience.

  • Psychology – AP Psychology provides a strong base of knowledge about mental processes. 

  • Calculus and Statistics – this essential for clinical research. Take the highest available calculus and statistics courses.

  • English – Build communication skills through writing and literature analyzing human narratives.

  • Foreign languages – Bilingual skills can aid understanding and connecting with diverse patients. 

Take as many AP courses in these subjects as possible, and try your best to maintain at least a 3.7 GPA and top standardized test scores to keep the best schools for psychology in the US attainable.

Gain Exposure to Healthcare

Seeking opportunities to experience healthcare environments first-hand can provide a profound understanding of the work that psychiatrists undertake. By immersing oneself in clinical settings, individuals can witness the intricacies of psychiatric care, observe patient interactions, and gain insights into the holistic approach psychiatrists employ to address mental health challenges, including developing a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient. This hands-on experience not only fosters a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the field but also allows aspiring healthcare professionals to connect theoretical knowledge with real-world applications. For those exploring various health careers, particularly in mental health services,  below are a few more examples of what one can do on the quest to become a psychiatrist: 

  • Volunteer or work part-time in a hospital, clinic or mental health facility. 

  • Shadow psychiatrists to observe their patient interactions and typical work activities.  

  • Take psychology or nursing courses at a local community college.

  • Apply for summer immersion programs related to psychiatry or medicine.

  • Intern at a pharmacy to understand medications that psychiatrists prescribe.

  • Attend psychiatry conferences and seminars open to high school students.

These activities develop your interpersonal abilities and confirm your interest in the field. They also give you insights to include in medical school applications. Exploring these avenues can also help you discover various mental health professional career opportunities.  Additionally, if you're wondering if psychology is a good career path, these experiences can provide clarity and direction in your career decision-making process.

Develop Communication Skills

Psychiatrists rely extensively on listening and connecting with patients. To build these competencies:

  • Take speech, debate, drama or journalism to get comfortable with public speaking and storytelling.

  • Practice active listening and empathy during everyday interactions.

  • Read books on emotional intelligence and counseling techniques.  

  • If comfortable, share your own experiences with mental health to gain insight.

  • Write about psychology topics using vivid but sensitive language.

Cultivate Your Passion

Explore psychiatry’s role in society through:  

  • Reading memoirs by psychiatrists like Irvin Yalom, Vikram Patel and Norman Rosenthal. 

  • Subscribing to psychiatry podcasts and journals.

  • Joining psychiatry clubs. Attend conferences if possible.

  • Following psychiatrists and mental health advocates on social media.

  • Volunteering for mental health non-profits.

  • Enjoying psychology-themed movies, shows, books and art.

  • Immersing yourself in the field’s culture nurtures motivation to sustain you through the long journey ahead.

Build Leadership and Service

Psychiatry aims to help others, so demonstrate that ethos through:

  • Participating in student government to exercise diplomacy and ethics. 

  • Leading clubs that align with psychiatry like Model UN or DECA.

  • Organizing mental health awareness events at school.

  • Fundraising for mental health charities. 

  • Volunteering as a crisis hotline counselor. 

  • Mentoring students who are new immigrants or underserved. 

  • Tutoring classmates struggling with academics or life challenges.

This engages your compassion while developing skills to enrich communities on a larger scale as a psychiatrist.

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Care for Your Own Wellbeing

Manage stress and build resilience through:

  • Getting adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise.

  • Journaling, yoga, mindfulness or spiritual practices.

  • Spending time outdoors and embracing hobbies.

  • Building strong relationships and support systems.

  • If beneficial, seeing a counselor or therapist and potentially learning from them

Explore Research Opportunities

Conducting research projects can showcase your potential as a physician-scientist. Options include: 

  • Finding a teacher willing to mentor an independent study on a psychiatry-related topic. 

  • Interning with a professor at a nearby college to contribute to their psychology, neuroscience,  behavioral sciences research. 

  • Entering competitions like the Siemens Science Competition with a psychiatry-focused project.

  • Publishing a literature review on the adolescent mental health condition prevalence and risk factors.

  • Applying your data science skills by analyzing factors correlated with mental health outcomes.

Engaging in these research activities not only strengthens your application to medical colleges but also contributes to your professional development by enhancing your analytical and scientific skills.

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Navigating the path towards becoming a psychiatrist in high school involves a strategic combination of academic excellence, extracurricular engagement, and personal development. By focusing on a well-rounded medical education, maintaining a strong foundation in science and psychology, participating in relevant extracurricular activities, seeking mentorship, and fostering empathy and communication skills, students can lay the groundwork for a successful journey into the field of psychiatry.  Aspiring psychiatrists should also seek opportunities to interact with healthcare professionals to gain insights and guidance about psychiatry jobs. Know that this pre-med journey requires dedication but offers immense rewards.