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Psychiatry as a career choice compared with other specialties: A survey of medical students

  • Sundararajan Rajagopal (a1), Kamaljit Singh Rehill (a2) and Emma Godfrey (a3)
Abstract
Aims and Method

The aim of this study was to determine the attitudes of medical students in the UK towards different specialties as career options and to ascertain the position of psychiatry among these specialties. Students belonging to a London medical school completed a questionnaire.

Results

Among the 301 students who completed the survey, psychiatry was the least popular clinical specialty. The study revealed that the students had a number of misconceptions about psychiatry. A family history of mental illness was significantly associated with choosing psychiatry as a career.

Clinical Implications

Considering the unpopularity of the specialty, it is likely that recruitment of psychiatrists will continue to be a major problem for the foreseeable future. Measures need to be taken to dispel the misconceptions about psychiatry.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
References
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BJPsych Bulletin
  • ISSN: 0955-6036
  • EISSN: 1472-1473
  • URL: /core/journals/bjpsych-bulletin
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Psychiatry as a career choice compared with other specialties: A survey of medical students

  • Sundararajan Rajagopal (a1), Kamaljit Singh Rehill (a2) and Emma Godfrey (a3)
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eLetters

Changing medical students' attitudes to psychiatry

Clare E Oakley, SHO
20 December 2004

The finding by Rajagopal et al. (2004) that psychiatry was the least popular clinical specialty amongst medical students is unsurprising but isclearly an issue that needs addressing. The authors suggested that the Royal College of Psychiatrists should undertake a campaign similar to the ‘Changing Minds’ initiative to destigmatise psychiatry in the eyes of medical students. I agree that it is important to try to change medical students’ attitudes to psychiatry but believe it can be achieved by improving their experiences during their placements.

This issue was explored by McParland et al. (2003). They found that an improvement in students’ attitudes to psychiatry, following their placement, was predicted by factors such as receiving encouragement from consultants, seeing patients respond well to treatment and having direct involvement in patient care. This is consistent with my personal experience. Prior to my psychiatric attachment at medical school I had many misconceptions about psychiatry and it was certainly not a career I was contemplating. However, during my placement I received excellent teaching and encouragement from my consultant and other members of the team. I was able to see patients improve and feel that I had a direct, if small, role to play in their care. This positive experience caused me to reassess my opinions about psychiatry and to decide it was a fascinating and challenging career choice.

It is clear that medical students’ attitudes to psychiatry are dependent on the actions of clinical teachers. An improvement in these attitudes will lead to more medical students considering a career in psychiatry. Therefore, it is my belief that more effective training to produce dynamic undergraduate clinical teachers will significantly improverecruitment to psychiatry.

Rajagopal, S., Rehill, K. S. & Godfrey E. (2004) Psychiatry as a career choice compared with other specialties: a survey of medical students. Psychiatric Bulletin, 28, 444-446.

McParland, M., Noble, L.M., et al (2003) The effect of a psychiatric attachment on students’ attitudes to and intention to pursue psychiatry asa career. Medical Education, 37 (5), 447-454.
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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The Abandoned Career Choice

Lena Palaniyappan, Senior House Officer
14 December 2004

The fact that Psychiatry is looked down upon by medical students is disturbing though not surprising (Rajagopal S,2004).

It is important to note that many students did not enjoy the rotation in Psychiatry.However, we all know that most of us are in a speciality because of some good teachers or models we had in the speciality during training and we did enjoy our clinical postings atleast to some degree.

Studying the results carefully, we see that the negative attitudes are mainly because Psychiatry is ‘boring’ and ‘unscientific’.Is psychiatry really boring and unscientific? If not why this distortion? I think it is timeto acknowledge that we, as specialist practitioners, have faltered in erecting proper foundations for our future lot.

The picture we present to an average medical student is of a long ward round where mostly social issuesare discussed, difficult patients who are reluctant to be interviewed, narratives that are challenging and time consuming to organise for a case presentation and absence of immediate rewarding sensation when you make a diagnosis in General Medicine or Neurology (This may be because we deal with syndromes rather than diseases). All the above said qualities are characteristic of our speciality and I do not appeal to change them. But what we can do is providing more supervision to students, employing a 'guarded release' system into clinical activities instead of ' clerk the patient and present to me tomorrow', changing the goal of clinical placements from 'getting signed off in the log book' to 'getting facts about the speciality'. This is the only way to make students understand that Psychiatry is not unscientific, of course it is more scientific than all other medical specialities. Most importantly, we cannot follow the streamlined education models used for other specialities; Now it is time for us to wake up and resuscitate Psychiatry!

Reference:Rajagopal S, Rehill K, Godfrey E (2004).Psychiatry as a career choice compared with other specialties: a survey of medical students, PsychiatricBulletin (2004) 28: 444-446
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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