Pathways into psychiatry for secondary students

If you're at secondary school, the idea of doing a medical specialty like psychiatry might seem a bit daunting - there's a lot of study and training to do.

To make it easier, this page breaks down the steps and requirements, and provides some useful tips and advice.

How to become a psychiatrist
Skills and personal traits
Entry into medicine
Subjects to study at school
Alternative pathways into medicine
Psychiatry training at RANZCP
Checklist for secondary school students
Stories from our Members
Printable and online resources

How to become a psychiatrist

If you are a caring person who is interested in science and passionate about making a real difference in the lives of everyday people, then psychiatry may be the career for you.

To become a psychiatrist you:

  • study medicine and complete a medical degree (4-6 years)
  • do on the job training in a hospital after your degree (1 year)
  • enrol and complete specialist training in psychiatry (5 years) with RANZCP.

Not sure what a psychiatrist does? Learn more about psychiatry

Skills and personal traits

A good psychiatrist is someone who is:

  • compassionate, empathetic, patient, caring, respectful, adaptable
  • good at observing, listening and communication
  • understanding of other cultures’ attitudes to medical treatment
  • able to communicate with people from various backgrounds and cultures
  • able to manage their time and work well under pressure
  • skilled at analysing and interpreting information
  • a good decision maker and problem solver.

Entry into medicine

Entry into medicine is limited and competitive. But remember, if you don't get in the first time around, there are alternative pathways available.

If you're coming straight from secondary school, a medical course generally takes 5-6 years to complete.

Every university has different entry requirements. In general, you will need to do some (or all) of the following:

  • finish your secondary school certificate with a high ATAR score (Australia) or a NCEA Level 3 (New Zealand) 
  • score highly in pre-requisite subjects 
  • sit an exam called the University Clinical Aptitude Test for Australia and NZ (UCAT)
  • provide a curriculum vitae (CV)
  • complete an interview.

Subjects to study at school

There is no definitive answer on which subjects you should study in order to enter medicine. Pre-requisite subjects vary across medical schools

The most common ones are:

  • maths
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • English.

Alternative pathways into medicine

Graduate entry

This is where you enter medicine after completing a different undergraduate degree first. Graduate entry is a good option if you don’t meet the requirements to enter into medicine straight after secondary school. Graduate entry programs generally take 4-5 years to complete.

More options

If you identify as Māori, or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander you may be eligible for an alternative pathway. More about Indigenous pathways into medicine.

If you are from a remote or rural area, identify as a refugee or have other special circumstances, there may also be other entry options for you. 

Check details on alternative pathways by contacting your chosen medical school

Psychiatry training at RANZCP

After completing your medical degree and internship, you can apply to begin psychiatry training with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP).

The Fellowship program: 

  • takes a minimum of 60 months (5 years) to complete
  • requires rotations in different areas of practice including child and adolescent, addiction, adult, forensic, Indigenous, old age and consultation–liaison psychiatry
  • is supervised by a senior psychiatrist.

During training, you will be assessed on your work performance. You also need to pass five major assessments.


More about psychiatry training at RANZCP

Checklist for secondary school students

Stories from our Members

Watch the playlist of videos below to meet some of our doctors and learn more about their journey into psychiatry.

Printable and online resources


Pathways into psychiatry [PDF; 1 MB]

Details for printing: A4 (210 x 297mm).

Specialise in the mind [PDF; 1MB]

Details for printing: A4 (210 x 297mm).


Keep psychiatry in mind - girl [PDF; 2MB]

Details for printing: A3 (297 x 420 mm).

Keep psychiatry in mind - boy [PDF; 2MB]

Details for printing: A3 (297 x 420 mm)


► What is a psychiatrist?

► Psychiatrists and psychologists: what’s the difference?

► Mental health workers: who’s who?


Words to know

Intern / Post-Graduate Year 1 (PGY1) 
A doctor in their first year of work in a hospital after completing their medical degree.

Registrar / trainee
A doctor who is training to become a specialist. 

A doctor who has finished specialist training.

A doctor who has completed all requirements of the RANZCP Fellowship program and is a current Member of the College.

Disclaimer: This material is generic advice to assist students interested in a career in psychiatry and should not be a substitute for careers advice. This website provides links to external websites and the RANZCP does not control and accepts no liability for the content of those websites.

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