The word serendipity has its origins in a fairy-tale about ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’, the latter being the former name for Ceylon. The heroes of this fairy-tale were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in search of. The earliest use of this term was by Horace Walpole, the essayist, who coined it in a letter of 1754. Later, he wrote a little fairy comedy on this theme, which was produced successfully at the Haymarket Theatre, London. The term means, therefore, the gift of being able to make delightful discoveries by pure accident and this is why it is used sometimes as the name for an antique shop or a second-hand clothes store. It is likely that most people could give examples of serendipitous incidents in their lives and the purpose of invoking the concept of serendipity in relation to sub-specialty selection by trainees is concerned with the possibility that chance can be a major determinant of outcome in this process. This issue is related to wider concern that the optimum methods for the well-informed recruitment of trainees into the sub-specialties and special interest areas in psychiatry have not yet been organised satisfactorily.
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