Author: Dr. DeeAnn Wong, IBPF’s Medical Director
Finding a competent psychiatrist physician that is a good fit can be tricky. Physicians have different bedside manners and some may work better for others.
There are number of places you can get great name recommendations. Your current physician can recommend a psychiatrist, as someone familiar of the medical field and professionals. Friends and family are another good source. However, online reviews can be a mixed bag because reviewers tend to post because they really like or don’t like about that physician, which not necessarily a gauge of competence. Additionally, there are companies for hire that will “scrub” a profile of any negative reviews. If you are seeing a therapist, they are also a good resource for psychiatrists.
Here’s what we recommend you look for:
• A doctor who takes his or her time talking with you, rather than making you feel like you’re at a drive-through fast-food restaurant.
• A doctor who engages his or her patients in decision-making, as opposed to simply rattling off a to-do list.
• A doctor who you can get in touch with on the phone or through secure email.
What are the differences between a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant?
A board-certified psychiatrist is a physician (MD or DO) who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. A psychiatrist must graduate from college, complete four years of medical school, and then an additional four years of specialty residency training in the field of psychiatry, all within a supervised setting. Many psychiatrists undergo additional training so they can further specialize in areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, alcohol and drug abuse, psychopharmacology, psychosomatic medicine and/or psychoanalysis.
To become board-certified, a psychiatrist must complete a four-year accredited residency program in general psychiatry and then pass a national exam to become board-certified. To keep their certification, they must re-certify every 10 years with another written exam through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
A clinical psychologist has a Master’s (MS or MA) Doctorate (PhD or PsyD) level of education in psychology. They have completed four years of college and do not have any specific courses to complete before applying to graduate school. Graduate school is a minimum of three years, then another two years of supervised experience. During this time, areas of focus include the behavioral aspects of human nature, research methods, psychopathology and psychological testing. To become licensed, they have to pass a national exam, then a state exam to be licensed in that state.
A nurse practitioner has a Master’s or Doctorate degree in nursing. They either have a Bachelor’s degree (four years) or a licensed vocational nurse (obtained in one year) before applying for graduate school. Graduate school may all be online and is two to three years, depending on their prior level of education. As a nurse practitioner in training, they focus on one of six areas, one of which includes psychiatry. Experience with patients may or may not be with “real” patients within a supervised setting. After completing school, they have to pass a national certification and licensing exam in their area of focus. To keep their certification, they must pass a national exam every five years.
A physician’s assistant has a Master’s Degree. They have completed at least two years of college with similar prerequisites for medical school. Many programs also require experience with hands-on patient care prior to admission. This includes, but is not limited to, working as a nurse, EMT, phlebotomist, surgical technician or medical assistant. Typically, most students have completed their Bachelor’s degree and about three years of hands-on experience prior to entering PA school. Most PA programs are three years, which includes supervised, live experience with patients. Once they have graduated from an accredited program, they must pass a national exam to apply for state licensure. To maintain their certification, they must take another exam every 10 years.
A psychiatrist has the most education and training of all and work with all of these professionals to provide care.