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Psychiatrists are doctors that diagnose, treat, and prevent emotional, mental and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists will diagnose and treat patients using treatments like psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, medication, and hospitalization. These doctors act as the primary care physician for patient’s mental health.
Currently, there are about 45,000 psychiatrists in the United States.
Students who want to become psychiatrists must complete an undergraduate degree in a field of science, and go on to complete medical school and earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.).
After graduating from medical school, future psychiatrists must complete a 4-year residency program that spends at least 3 years specifically in psychiatry.
Psychiatrists can choose to complete an additional 1 to 2-year fellowship program in a subspecialty of psychiatry including:
- Geriatric psychiatry
- Psychosomatic medicine
- Sleep medicine
- Brain injury medicine
- Addiction psychiatry
- Hospice and palliative care medicine
- Brain injury medicine
- Forensic psychiatry
- Child and adolescent psychiatry
- Vascular neurology
- Neurodevelopmental disabilities
All doctors require a medical license to practice medicine in any state. Following completion of a residency program, doctors will take a lengthy test in the state the doctor plans to practice. States individually control their own requirements, so requirements will vary across the country.
Medical licenses allow doctors to practice any type of medicine but do not stand for qualification in any one area of medicine.
Psychiatrists become board certified through the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. To gain board certification, doctors must meet certain professional and educational requirements, and must pass a lengthy qualifying examination.
Psychiatrists will maintain board certification by upholding certain professional standards, taking continued education classes, and eventually by retaking the qualifying exams.
Where Psychiatrists Work
Psychiatrists can work out of a variety of settings including private and group practices, general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, courts and prisons, nursing homes, rehabilitation programs, emergency rooms, and clinical settings.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, about half of all psychiatrists work in private practice, and another half work in multiple settings.
How Psychiatrists Help People
Psychiatrists treat a variety of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders in patients. Psychiatrists see patients with ongoing or sudden mental problems like depression, anxiety, paranoia, and schizophrenia.
Psychiatrists are often confused with psychologists. Psychologists are not medical doctors, and focus more on the behavior aspects of mental health, like sleep and eating patterns.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors and have a better understanding of how the body and mind are connected and they understand the effects neurochemistry has on mental health. Psychiatrists have a better understanding of major mental health problems like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.
Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications for mental health issues.
When a psychiatrist sees a patient, she will perform a full physical exam of the patient, and will talk to the patient about significant medical and mental health history. The psychiatrist may also perform diagnostic tests to check for problems causing fluctuations in brain chemistry, like thyroid under function. The psychiatrist will perform a psychological evaluation of the patient to understand mental symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns.
The daily duties of a psychiatrist will depend on the psychiatrist’s specialties. Psychiatrists working in private offices may spend their time in psychotherapy sessions with clients and in their offices completing administrative work, whereas a psychiatrist working in a psychiatric hospital may spend the day assessing patients and diagnosing serious mental disorders like schizophrenia.
Psychiatrists use a variety of treatments on patients including medications, psychotherapy, and other treatments like electroconvulsive therapy or ECT. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the most common treatment used by psychiatrists. Psychotherapy can take many forms, and may involve the doctor focusing on specific relationships or behaviors of the patient. Psychotherapy allows the patient to talk through experiences and emotions. This kind of treatment can last for a few weeks or for many years.
Psychiatrists will also prescribe medications to patients in addition to psychotherapy. Medications improve imbalances in brain chemistry. Psychiatrists will prescribe medications like:
- Antidepressants, used for conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety
- Antipsychotic medications, used for psychotic conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
- Sedatives, used for anxiety and insomnia
- Hypnotics, used to induce sleep
- Mood stabilizers, used for conditions like bipolar disorder
- Stimulants, used for conditions like ADHD
Psychiatrists may also prescribe electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and use electrical currents applied to the brain to treat severe conditions of depression and other mental conditions.
Psychiatric Malpractice In Baltimore
Medical malpractice in psychiatry occurs when psychiatrists fail to perform their duties within the standard of “reasonable care”. If psychiatrists breach this duty and patients suffer serious harm, the psychiatrist can be held liable for malpractice.
Patients under the care of a psychiatrist may have serious problems with their brain chemistry, and may pose a dangerous threat to themselves. One of the most common malpractice claims in psychiatry is the failure to conduct a proper suicide risk assessment for the patient and examine the patient’s medical history and current mental state to determine if the patient is at risk for harming herself.
A mistake in suicide risk assessment can be tragic for families of the patient, and leaves patients vulnerable to serious harm when a doctor’s care could have helped. Psychiatrists are also responsible for taking steps to prevent a suicide or other self-harm when they have reason to believe the patient will attempt self-harm.
Diagnosis errors are also common forms of malpractice in psychiatry. When doctors fail to perform the necessary psychiatric assessment and other diagnostic tests, they miss a diagnosis, delay a diagnosis, or altogether fail to diagnose the patient. Patients may be prescribed incorrect medication that worsens their condition, or may harm themselves or others without a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
The third most common malpractice in psychiatry are medication errors. Failing to prescribe the correct medication, failing to monitor the success of a medication, or failing to prescribe the correct dosage of medication can all lead to further imbalances in brain chemistry and a result in patient self-harm or accidental overdoses.
Maryland Psychiatric Malpractice Attorneys
It is important for psychiatrists to provide the highest standard of care to their patients to secure the safety of the patients and people around the patient. Breaking this standard of care is grounds for malpractice.
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury while under the care of a psychiatrist, call Gilman & Bedigian today. Call (800) 529-6162 today to begin your case and to learn more about your legal options.