We are two medical students who wish to offer a perspective on undergraduate education and psychiatry.
During our student placement, we attended the old age psychiatry module at the Northern Deanery MRCPsych programme focusing on dementia and ethics. This was aimed at trainees and not specifically medical students but we were surprised to find that this was not above our level of knowledge. This prompted discussion of undergraduate psychiatry training more broadly, which we felt focused too heavily on the diagnosis of mental illness and less so on the holistic approach to the patient and their presentation as covered by the MRCPsych course. From our experience of undergraduate psychiatry we feel that the assessment by means of a logbook of conditions encourages students to find patients with a certain diagnosis, and in doing so overlooks the true essence of psychiatry. To our mind this incorporates the ability to consider all aspects of a patient's life and formulating these, while demonstrating compassion for another person at a time of most need.
Through choosing a 6-week placement in old age psychiatry we have been able to explore the specialty more thoroughly and broadly than facilitated within the standard undergraduate programme, and we have realised how little of psychiatry we have been exposed to as undergraduates. We have become more aware of the importance of considering the patient's personal and social circumstances alongside their diagnosis, and how these can influence each other. Specifically, the importance of a sound ethical approach to practice has been highlighted through the higher-level teaching we experienced, where the Mental Capacity Act was discussed in detail.
We believe that it would benefit undergraduates to experience a more realistic and rounded placement in psychiatry and truly consider the social implications of mental illness. As it currently stands, undergraduate education in psychiatry is oversimplified to focus on diagnosis and does not acknowledge the capabilities of medical students to adopt a holistic approach. An opportunity to consider all aspects of a psychiatrist's role may encourage more students to consider a career in this field.