Keen on psychiatry but not confident at math? Surprisingly it’s a common feeling!
But is doing pure math a must if you want to become a psychiatrist?
You can become a psychiatrist without “doing” pure math. But it’s difficult. The first part of the process, getting into med school, is much easier if you have math credits. Although it’s not always a prerequisite, it opens more doors on the road to becoming a psychiatrist.
That could be a bit of surprise if you didn’t already know that psychiatrists first have to study medicine!
But although that answer seems simple, there are a few complexities. First, this how it mainly works in the U.S. (it doesn’t consider all other countries). Second, you still can be a psychiatrist (and work in the U.S.) without math.
I’ll go into this more in this article. Here’s what else you’ll learn:
- If psychiatrists need math
- How math is used in psychiatry
- What other subjects are needed
- If being good at math helps
As a med student interested in specializing in psychiatry myself, I’m well aware of the process!
Ready to learn more? Let’s go!
Pure math and med school
As we’ve already discussed, to become a psychiatrist you must first complete a medical degree. That’s something that can be very difficult to achieve without any background in pure math.
- Pure math is very relevant to physics (an important subject on the MCAT – the admissions exam for U.S. med school)
- Pure math is used to describe human physiology (rates, flows etc.) – a core subject on a medical school curriculum
- A pure or applied math credit is a prereq for 90% of U.S. med schools
So without knowing (or understanding) pure math you can certainly make it harder for yourself becoming a psychiatrist!
But there is good news.
If you can make it through med school without pure math, specialisms like psychiatry are very accessible. That’s because, unlike other math-heavy residencies (radiology for example), math is fairly limited. Psychiatrists don’t need it that much.
So how do you make it through med school without any math?
You’ve got a couple of options.
- Go to med school abroad (Europe for example – where math isn’t usually a prereq)
- Apply for med schools with no math prereq in the U.S. (you can find a list of them via searching for schools “with no prereqs”)
As for how much you’ll then need math once you’re in med school, that’s something I discuss in this article; Can I Be A Doctor If I’m Bad At Math?
The short answer is; you need some math but you don’t have to be particularly great!
So while you don’t need to have “done” pure maths as a dedicated course, you’ll still need a basic understanding of it to eventually make it through to psychiatry.
Does a psychiatrist need math?
As we’ve already discussed, psychiatrist’s don’t need much math on their way to training and qualifying.
Psychiatry-based residency exams are more focused on:
- Pathology (specifically diseases relating to mental health)
- Pharmacology (drugs used to help with these diseases)
- Clinical cases (testing, observation etc. that leads to accurate diagnosis)
There isn’t a great deal of physics involved in training to become a psychiatrist. So that’s one way math is avoided.
How is math used in psychiatry?
The main ways math is used in psychiatry include:
- Drug calculations (dosages, prescriptions etc.)
- Diagnostic evaluations (observing and measuring biomarkers or other values)
The fact psychiatrists are tasked with prescriptions and the ability to administer drugs is something that more broadly separates them from psychologists (although this isn’t always the case).
Math, for that reason, still has a level of importance for the average psychiatrist.
Interestingly, neuroscience (and the way it intersects with psychiatry) is something that continues to lean heavily on math. An article in Nature.com, for example, highlights some of the ways pushing math in the field can help make future scientific advancements…
Math can also have a short-term impact in psychiatry for things such as predicting individual responses to drugs and improving precision medicine more generally.(Source)
What subjects do you need to become a psychiatrist?
You’ll need to cover all the major science courses of a med school curriculum and the common pre-requisite courses that those schools look at.
I cover them in this article; The Ultimate List Of Classes You Take In Medical School (What Doctors Learn & Why).
So here’s where math really opens doors.
Studying calculus, pure and applied math makes becoming a psychiatrist a lot easier. Doing well helps you fit the criteria for more med schools. That’s something that will increase your options (and chances) of making it into a psychiatry residency.
Don’t neglect math, if you can help it!
Do you have to be good at math to be a psychologist?
Becoming a psychologist could be a better option if the thought of studying pure math scares you.
Schooling for psychologists is a little more avoidant of math. You don’t need to go to med school (you can study the subject at undergrad) and math makes up a very small part of the overall degree.
Here’s how Healthline describes the route into psychology (Source)…
Psychologists have an advanced degree, such as a PhD or PsyD. Most commonly, they use talk therapy to treat mental health conditions. They may also act as consultants along with other healthcare providers or study therapy for entire treatment programs.
As the roles have their definite overlap (but one requires more applied math than the other), becoming a psychologist in place of a psychiatrist, could be something to think about!
Although it’s possible to become a psychiatrist without pure math your chances are very small. Hopefully this article has helped why this is the case, as well as what avenues you can explore if you feel that’s something that could hold you back.
One final word of encouragement; even if you think you’re bad at math, you can get better. Read as much as you can about studying effectively and you’ll see, with a bit of confidence, that you can make big changes.
It certainly shouldn’t put you off trying for psych as a career!
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.