Job Functions of Psychiatrists

by Brenda Scottsdale

It takes about 12-years to become a psychiatrist. After getting a bachelor's degree, you have to earn a medical degree and complete a four-year residency. Most psychiatrists work in colleges, universities, private research facilities or in clinical practice. The mean annual income for psychiatrists in 2011 was $174,170, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychiatry is a high-demand profession, with job growth projected to continue to increase over the next decade.


Clinical psychiatrists are required to keep abreast of current research trends in the field and apply this knowledge into their daily work with patients and supervision of staff. One of their main job functions involves reading journal articles and completing continuing education credits to keep their license current. Research psychiatrists review published research thoroughly, designing and testing their own original hypotheses to add to current scientific knowledge. Typical research projects range from medication trials to creating original theories of how the human mind functions.


Especially in inpatient or residential-treatment settings, a psychiatrist functions as the leader of a team of professionals including psychologists, social workers and nurses. As the leader, he is responsible for the clinical direction of cases, making the final decision on matters such as when a patient leaves the hospital and resolving disputes over diagnoses and treatment plans. In research settings, the psychiatrist also takes a leadership role, assuming ultimate responsibility for the study, data collection and the integrity of the results.

Diagnostic Assessment

Although a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, she does not get to use definitive, mechanical tests to assess what is wrong with her patients as general practitioners do. Instead, patients present psychiatrists with interesting and complicated symptoms; psychiatrists must play detective, interviewing patients and their families and reviewing professional reports from medical doctors, social workers and psychologists to arrive meaningful diagnoses. Psychiatrists must then explain their diagnoses and recommended treatment plans to patients in terms they can understand.

Medication Management

The main focus of a psychiatric practice is to prescribe and manage medications for patients suffering from mental health or substance-abuse problems. A psychiatrist is an expert in a class of medications known as psychotropics, which are used almost exclusively to control mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. They also prescribe medications to facilitate detoxification for chemically dependent patients, such as librium, suboxone and depakote. While some general practitioners prescribe medications to treat mental health issues, they generally refer more complicated cases to psychiatrists for medication management.

About the Author

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.

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