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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

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08/10/2015 13:33:33

The Mental Health of Medical Students

Mental Health of Medical StudentsAt the beginning of this month the Student BMJ released an article documenting the results of a survey they completed.1 This survey looked at the mental health of medical students attending university in the UK – and what it found was very concerning. Student BMJ surveyed 1122 medical students – they found that 343 of the respondents, ie 30% of the cohort had experienced or received treatment for a mental health condition. In addition a shocking 80% of this group expressed that the level of support available to them was either ‘poor or only moderately inadequate’. 167 of the respondents, just under 15%, revealed that they had considered committing suicide at some point during their studies.

This survey highlights that there is an alarming prevalence of mental health conditions and suicidal ideation amongst medical students – further to this, it is disturbing to find that a majority of the students felt inadequately supported.

As a medical student myself, I am very aware of the environment students find themselves in. Medicine is a competitive degree, with a very intense workload. It is psychologically taxing – dealing with such large volumes of work and preparing for deadlines, whilst attending lectures, seminars, practicals etc. throughout the week, typically from 9 to 5, can induce a lot of stress. In addition to this, we come into contact with death, dying and distress in the clinical environment – we are expected to be professionals, but this is a considerable task for medical students who can be as young as 18 years. Students studying medicine have to undergo an extreme transition between studying for A-levels compared to studying for a medical degree – the workload is much larger, and there is considerably less academic support. Medical students also have to come to terms with the fact that they will have less time to socialise, to see friends and family than other students at university with a less demanding timetable – and this can bring about feelings of frustration and sadness.

Some students find themselves with a great social support system at university – with friends/family who can lend a sympathetic ear – for some people it can be a relief just to tell someone else how they feel. For others however, this form of social support may be absent. It is my opinion that it is the responsibility of the university/academic institution which provides the course to ensure a very high level of pastoral support is easily accessible for medical students. I found the BMJ’s survey distressing. It is saddening to realise that if I, or indeed one of my peers who also study medicine, were to ever find ourselves with mental health issues, that we might be faced with a situation where the support may well be inadequate depending on where we study. Medical schools need to face the facts that a significant percentage of medical students feel unsupported with regards to mental health problems. Medical schools are educating future doctors about the importance of the biopsychosocial model, and de-stigmatizing mental illness – yet they do not promote the importance of discussing and dealing with these problems in an open environment. Medical schools should make it very clear how to attain pastoral support and ensure it is free of any stigma. Indeed universities should also provide information on how to contact other organisations who can provide support – such as general practice, counsellors and Samaritans.

As a medical student at Queen’s University Belfast, I feel supported. During the first week of my medical course, the year group were given a lecture by a mental health professional who explained that the course would place a lot of demands on us, and that it was important for us to look after our own mental health. We were made aware of the support systems at Queens – for all students, for example the University Health Service, the University counselling service and student support leads. At Queens the dialogue surrounding our own mental wellbeing was opened up from the very beginning, and thus I feel that I would be supported if I found myself needing assistance.

I believe that with open dialogue, and clear accessible support, medical students with mental health problems will feel much more supported during their time at university.


  1. Matthew Billingsley (September 2015) 'More than 80% of medical students with mental health issues feel under-supported, says Student BMJ survey', Student BMJ, 23:h452 [Online]. Available at: 13/09/2015).
18/08/2015 09:56:44

Mental Health – What is it?

Can we define physical health as absence of physical illness? Perhaps sometimes, yes. Can we define mental health as absence of mental illness? Is mental health not more than lack of ailment? If so, what is it? How do we recognise when we have it? Must we have been touched by its absence through mental health difficulty?

I have learned as a psychiatrist and as a doctor, but mostly as a person with human experience that mental health matters. A lot. 

Good, poor or average, just like physical health, we all have it. Yet we struggle to define it. We have distanced ourselves from it, made its discussion a rarity.

Can we be 'healthy' without being mentally healthy?

Mental health difficulties greatly increase the risk of physical health problems through the nature of the illness or its treatment. Physical health problems potentiate higher risk of mental health difficulties. Factors such as intellectual disability and social deprivation predispose higher incidences of both physical and mental health problems.

So why are attitudes about physical versus mental ill health so different? 

Diabetes, epilepsy, asthma; spoken of in normal voices with earnest & supportive eye contact in schools, in work places, in the media.

Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia; mumbled in hushed tones with averted gaze or sensationalized to insight fear and preserve ignorance. 

Debilitating physical disorders drastically affect quality of life and have emotional consequences; risk of mental illness will increase. Yet potential exists for mental health to be retained in the midst of the worst physical illness and even preparation for death. Some describe contentment and positive mental health at their toughest times despite what others would perceive as devastating life events. 

This raises the question; can physical health be retained amid significant mental ill health? Only with greatest difficulty, if at all. In the grip of severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or profound depression, physical health frequently suffers. Entrenched in psychosis the ability to engage in basic daily living activities becomes drastically compromised. By reason of severe mental illness, there are often physical sequelae and vice versa.

So why is parity of esteem so elusive? Why the battle for equal status? 

In some cases illness itself will mean that loss of insight is part and parcel of the presentation. However, this is the minority of cases. 

Then why are we neither comfortable nor confident to examine our internal world let alone vocalise its shifts?

We are engendered with a fear of mental illness, a burden of terror crossing sociocultural divides. Stigma has forced us to lose touch with our emotional barometers; we struggle to communicate the states of our mind. 

Our emotional vocabulary is limited to clichéd phrases. A child describing physical pain makes a great attempt to share their experience. Asked to express emotional pain and again they are oft remarkable in their eloquence or artistic expression, giving carers and professionals an excellent chance to glimpse at their psychological state. What robs this ability? In educating to broaden minds, what are we also doing that is narrowing them?

I do sense a seed of change; a nursery school shelf dedicated to ‘feelings’ puppets and self-esteem books, mindfulness and resilience hitting the curriculum and the boardroom. It’s a sea change we need though.

The black dog and his counterparts across the spectrum of mental illness aren’t going anywhere and we seem ill equipped to play master. 

High profile figures sharing their experiences get us talking, add some ease to the idea that ‘it could be me’, that there are treatments and recovery, a life still to live. That while we aspire to live with good physical and mental health, to avoid major illness, at times our mental health will be ‘less good’, that’s what's normal; that’s what's ordinary.

Science is better defining mental disorders neuro-chemically and neuro-anatomically and this is tackling stigma.

We seem ‘hard wired’ to empathise with others in physical pain. Too often it appears we have learned to recoil from those in psychological torment. Yet the experience of mental pain is part of the human condition. We need to be mindful of our internal states in order that we can appreciate times of good mental health, thereby able to optimise our early recognition of poor mental health. We need to see good mental health for the gift it is, enabling us the potential to be fulfilled, to really experience our world, including the ability to be truly compassionate for others at their times of mental health difficulty. 

Attitudes are changing; colleagues, medical students, kids in classrooms and the man on the street are learning the lingo. It’s a pleasure to be involved in initiatives that support this shift. Whatever we define mental health as, it doesn’t need to be special, but it does need to be ordinary and equal.


Dr Maggie McGurgan

Consultant in CAMHS


13/01/2015 11:47:22

Surviving F1


“Just get through written finals and you're on the home straight . . ."

Alex Berry on applying for Pathfinders fellowshipsIt was a little over 12 months ago that I had completed part one of final MB and I was assured that if I survived those it was plain sailing from then on it. Effectively the hard part was over! (?)

How long this honeymoon period was to last was never fully timelined.

Yes I passed written finals and survived my final clinical exams. However I now feel that I took for granted the significance of the transition that awaited me in the first week of August, as I went from carefree medical student to a newly qualified F1 doctor with all the responsibilities and stresses that accompanies this role.

The transition

The transition can be especially more challenging when relocating to a new specialty/hospital/deanery and getting to grips with the subtle differences that exist.

The unfortunate labelling of "Black Wednesday" by the media does little to alleviate these difficulties.

I quickly learnt that five years of medical school taught me a great deal, however it can be quite challenging to combine such a wealth of information whilst trying to familiarise yourself with the onslaught of never-ending discharge letters, e-portfolio, prescribing night sedation at 3am for the first time, pacing yourself for the dreaded 12 day runs in your rota and ordering CT scans at weekends... face to face with a bemused radiologist knowing full well you aren't entirely sure of the indication for this imaging request.


Same rickety boat

It has been a steep and at times incredibly stressful learning curve, however (without sounding too clichéd) I feel that I have subsequently grown and developed as a result of these past four months.

One important aspect of being a new F1 and certainly in a new city/hospital is that your peers are all in the same (relatable rickety) boat and are an excellent source of help and support. It's important to avail of this even if it's just sounding off to a good friend over a Starbucks (or any other generic/fairtrade coffee house) after a particularly stressful day.

It's important that junior doctors continue to support and look out for each other as the stress amongst the medical profession is well documented.

Nearly half (44%) of the 368 doctors that the BMA surveyed in a study in 2013 said that their stress levels were worse or much worse than they were a year before, while similar proportions said that work-life balance and morale had worsened (39% and 40%, respectively).The BMA has said that the working patterns of junior doctors have turned training into a “trial of endurance." (1)


Practitioner Health Programme (PHP)

The need to address these issues is encapsulated by the work of the Practitioner Health Programme (PHP).This is a free confidential service founded in 2008 for doctors and dentists living primarily in London who have mental health and/or addiction concerns. The PHP recognises the need for Doctors and Dentists to have the same rights to confidential healthcare as the rest of the population.

It is led by Dr Clare Gerada, former Chair of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioner who has found that since the service began, an increasing number of doctors have presented with mental health problems — 242 in 2012/13 compared to 195 in 2008/09. It should be noted that 55% of the patients presenting to the service in 2012/13 were aged 25 to 35 while only 22% were aged 46 or over and it is important that this is put into context as under 35 year olds represent 28% of those on the GMC register. (2)

It is well documented that Doctors are at higher risk than the general population of developing stress related problems and depression, and of committing suicide. (3).


The PHP has identified two key areas which attribute as to why doctors are especially vulnerable to developing mental health problems – these being occupational and individual risk factors respectively.Doctors and other health professionals report above average levels of stress—28% compared with 18% in the general working population. (4)


Occupational risk factors include the emotional demands of working with patients and their families, as well as dealing with their high expectations and pressures. This is coupled with structural risk factors such as the heavy workloads and unpredictable working hours, as well as the often limited social support.


At the individual level the personality traits of many medical professionals, such as perfectionism, can result in them becoming increasingly self-critical, developing self-doubt or guilt for things outside of their own control.

Not eating right/enough, smoking and drinking alcohol in excess are easy but unfortunate ruts for stressed junior doctors to become stuck in as it is believed that one in fifteen doctors develop a problem with drugs or alcohol at some point in their lives. (5) It is therefore essential to maintain good physical and mental health in order to function to the best of your ability.

Letting off steam

From personal experience I have found that it is vital to sustain the interests and activities you had before starting work as a F1 - whether this is playing sports, going to the gym, heading to gigs or being a part of other clubs/organisations. More often than not these activities provide the perfect outlet for letting off steam and getting rid of built up stresses and worries accumulated over the working week.

It is also essential to sustain friendships/relationships in the midst of working in the busy f1 rota. Trying to keep in touch with uni mates based in other hospitals or friends who aren't medics can be particularly tricky especially when you are working long anti-social shifts. It is key however that you make time for these people - especially non medic friends as they quite often help distract from the constant onslaught of hospital chat and provide some refreshing perspective and a non-judgemental ear.

It is making time for this, that is the key and it is incredibly difficult to strike a good work-life balance when you struggle to finish on time in the midst of a hectic shift.

These things can't be helped and as a new F1 it's important to accept that clinical situations become distorted constantly at an unpredictable pace.


The Challenges
This summer prior to starting work in august, I read "Trust me I'm a junior doctor" written by Max Pemberton – the pen name of the well-known British psychiatrist, author and journalist.
It is only now having retrospectively re-read the book in the midst of making the transition that I fully appreciate the brutal honesty and stark insight into life as a newly qualified doctor and the challenges that accompany it.

One of the main things I have learnt from my time as a newly qualified F1 is acknowledging when you are out of your depth - whether this is in an acute clinical setting or after a particularly challenging time at work. There are support services available - occupational health, your clinical and educational supervisors as well as other f1 and more senior colleagues.

BMA services are a constant source of help and guidance for doctors and are easily accessible through their website. Exploring such avenues and seeking out help should not be viewed as a sign of weakness but rather one of strength and self-awareness in knowing your own capabilities and where your strengths lie.

The past four months have been both the quickest yet most intense I have experienced - certainly since the build up to finals. I have however learnt a great deal not only about medicine but about myself and where my strengths and weaknesses lie.

I am sure my next rotation will provide me with equal insight and a variety of new and challenging experiences ahead which I relish in anticipation.



1.    Health Policy & Economic Research Unit. Cohort study of 2006 medical graduates: 7th report. BMA, April 2013.

2.    Gerada C, Jones R, Wessely A. Young female doctors, mental health, and the NHS working environment. BMJ Careers 9 Jan 2014.

3.    Schernhammer ES, Colditz GA. Suicide rates among physicians: a quantitative and gender assessment (meta-analysis). Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:2295-302

4.    Firth-Cozens J. Doctors, their wellbeing, and their stress. BMJ 2003;326:670-1.

5.    Watts G. Doctors, drink and drugs. BMJ Careers 2005; 331:105-6.



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12/09/2014 11:13:44

Mind the Gap


Newcastle University Students’ Union’s first ever mental health project and conference - 3 May 2014


Newcastle University Students’ Union’s first ever mental health project and conferenceIt had been a long nine months but finally the day was here! After months of planning, hours of stress and litres of caffeine the day of our first ever mental health conference had arrived!


Nine months ago, the student’s union decided that it is about time that this historical educational institution should probably host a conference that helps promote knowledge and understanding of mental health, whilst tackling the negative stigma behind mental health and those who suffer from mental health problems. After all, why is it ok talking about a broken arm or taking time off,  but not ok saying you have depression?


The strands

There were four strands to this project:


  • Local Schools,
  • Diverse Communities,
  • Wider Student Body,
  • Local Businesses and GPs.


Each strand has a chair and I was lucky enough to be elected Chair of the Local Businesses and GPs strand. Each chair has a working group who were responsible for targeting the different groups of people to try and get them involved in our project. The project is entirely student led and each working group is made up of students from all walks of life. My working group were made up of medics from all years (who I had never met prior to this project!) and psychology students; any one could sign up to be in any of the working groups.


The group got to know each other through various meetings of which we had 'weekly' in one of our favourite local teashops. Whilst sampling the extensive menu of amazing teas and cakes the café had to offer, we were busy coming together with ideas of what events we would run for the conference and how we were going to reach our target groups.


We were also very keen to get our schools at the University involved in the project so we managed to arrange meetings with staff from our departments to get their ideas on the project and any thoughts that they had on what we should do.


For the medics in the working group, having the support of the medical school throughout the project has been fantastic. It indicated to us that they felt strongly about changing the negative stigma surrounding mental health and people who suffer from mental health problems.



GPs and promo video

After talking to the medical school and our local GP tutors, we managed to get a slot during the GP study day to talk to local GPs about our project and invite them to our conference. GPs are usually the first point of contact for patients with mental health problems, and the care that a patient receives initially from their GP could be the difference between them accepting help or shying away from it further and suffering in silence.


Shortly after this we began to film our promo video in and around Newcastle for the run up to the Conference. We were surprised to see how many different students around campus and members of the public were keen to get involved with this!



The big day

After a sleepless night, our morning began early… 7am! Where we headed off to the Union with bags under our eyes and strong coffees in hand! We were so excited yet so nervous about how the day would run. There were a few last minute touches to be done to the venue and the strand sessions.


The conference began at 10am with an introduction from all the strand leaders and talks from the wonderful Dr Tom Brown (RCPsych) and journalist Emma Woolf. We had excellent feedback for our guest speakers and can’t thank them enough for coming along to help us with our first ever mental health conference! 


After these very interesting and mind-opening talks, it was time for our guests to explore other strand events. The Student’s Union was very busy and the atmosphere was amazing! We tried to lure our guests into our strand’s session by coming up with fun names for our sessions; (thanks to the café for fuelling us with inspirational ideas with its vast selection of cakes and tea).


The three sessions were ‘knowledge’, ‘reducing stigma’ and ‘wellbeing’. 'Knowledge' was based on a pub quiz (‘Pub Quiz with a Twist’) with questions that ranged from simple ‘true or false’ to ‘the history of psychiatry and mental health’. There were complementary mocktails for anyone who participated. We did role play and group talking session (‘Reducing the Gap’) as our ‘reducing stigma’ session where we asked people to pair up and pretend to be a doctor or a friend with a mental health problem. Lastly we did a meditation session (‘Alice in Wonderland’) with a local Buddhist meditation leader. This proved to be very popular! The room was scented with incense, and tea and cakes were offered for after the session.


There were also some fascinating and educational sessions from the other strands of the Conference with speakers from local charities and mental health sufferers. It was just such a shame that we and our volunteers didn’t have the opportunity to see each other’s’ sessions! 


We also had a ‘Sensory Room’ which was kitted out with things like fun house mirrors. This was a place where mental health sufferers tried to physically show what their mental health problem looks like to them. It was such an evocative way of exhibiting how we can feel.  We also had stalls from our local charities where people could go talk to some of the volunteers. An endless supply of tea, coffee and biscuits were supplied in the ‘relax area’. This allowed our guests to recharge.


One of the positive things about the event was the atmosphere which was both open and supportive. Our guests seemed so relaxed and everyone appeared to have been having a good time. We really didn’t want the day to end!



The Future

The success of the ‘Mind the Gap’ project last academic year and the amazing turnout at the Conference in May, has helped to establish ‘Mind the Gap’ into a society –  it’s here to stay!


We have combined all four strands from the project together so that we can work with and involve everyone in our projects and events. As a society we are here to promote knowledge and understanding of mental health and tackle the stigma that sounds mental health. There will be two overall strands to the society; general and medical.


As a society we will aim to work with local schools to build knowledge and understanding of mental health in our younger population.Events in the past have proven to be popular with schools, and they’re very exciting and enjoyable for us to do too! The medics in the society are also working hard alongside the medical school, our local GPs and mental health trusts to promote knowledge and understanding in professionals who work in healthcare. We are currently in talks with them about up and coming events. Watch this space!


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28/02/2014 15:14:10

Fantastic first year


Opened my eyes

Liana Romaniuk: Pathfinder Fellowships

The first year of the Pathfinder Fellowship has been fantastic: I’ve had many opportunities to increase my exposure to psychiatry and neuroscience, and pursue my own interests to greater depths.

The opening symposium of the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic opened my eyes to new ways of understanding and treating brain disorders.

The College’s own International Congress gave me a solid appreciation for psychiatry’s inspirational quality. While good progress is being made, there’s still so much more to be done, clinically and academically.


Superb elective

The fellowship also made it possible for me to go on a superb elective.

Here the stories people tell are startling; a window into the lives of others that were completely removed from my own experience.

I spent the first four weeks at Scotland’s maximum security psychiatric facility, The State Hospital, Carstairs. Here the stories people tell are startling; a window into the lives of others that were completely removed from my own experience. 

There was a strong sense of partnership between the medical and psychological approaches: one addressing the neurobiological basis of the illness through tailored medication, the other taking this improved neural foundation and building better awareness and coping strategies. Equally, social work tried to make sure the patient has a chance to put things into practice by securing a decent environment with some hope.

The second four weeks were spend conducting research at the Translational Neuromodeling Unit in Zürich, which was a wonderful experience, taught me a great deal, and will hopefully lead to a publication.

Finally, I attended the Oxford Psychiatry Autumn School, which gave me a chance to explore a deanery I’d be interested in applying to for my foundation training.


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16/01/2014 14:54:21

Applying for a Pathfinders Fellowship with a research project


Sleeping on the job

Alex Berry on applying for Pathfinders fellowships

I’m currently a final year student at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), and have been interested in psychiatry since my second year of medical school. I have been involved with the medical student psychiatry society at BSMS, undertaken an intercalated BSc in neuroscience, and I spent my elective attached to psychiatry and neurology teams in India.


I’m interested in biological psychiatry and sleep medicine, and am currently trying to explore these areas further.


Don’t be afraid to admit possible shortcomings in your project design.

When I applied for the Pathfinder Fellowship, part of my application involved including a proposal for a research project I was hoping to undertake, which looked at poor sleep as a predictor for depressive disorder in patients receiving interferon-α-based treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection.


I used the funds from my Pathfinder Fellowship to present these results on a poster last summer.



Advice on applying

For anyone considering applying for a Pathfinder Fellowship with a research project, my advice would be:


  • Ensure you’re able to explain what you intend to do in your project clearly and concisely. I would recommend practising this, as whilst some concepts may be clear in your head, explaining them clearly to others is a skill.


  • Make sure that you have a clear idea about what it is you are investigating. This sounds obvious, but for some projects (particularly those involving lots of data) it can become confusing. If your project requires you to make a hypothesis about something, be clear on what your hypothesis is, and why you’ve decided on that particular hypothesis.


  • Be prepared to justify why you’ve decided to research the particular area that you’ve chosen.


  • Don’t be afraid to admit possible shortcomings in your project design.


  • Importantly, think about what you would use the Pathfinder funds for specifically.


  • Finally, remember that the Pathfinder Fellowship is meant to fund you, rather than just your project/elective, and try and enjoy the interview!   


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12/11/2013 10:59:19

So What Do You Want To Be?


Innocent question

So What Do You Want To Be?

‘So what kind of doctor do you want to be?’


It’s an innocent enough question and, after six years at medical school, one I have grown very familiar with. It can be applied to conversation with a medical student in any kind of social situation: friends and family over rarefied Christmas get-togethers; friends at university when the well of discussion pieces dries up; doctors of every speciality, peering at you with the ill-concealed desire that you want to follow their illustrious footsteps into their chosen speciality.


I have always disliked the inquiry because I have never had a good answer.


For the first five years or so, I would mumble that I didn’t really know, that I enjoyed every field of medicine I had tried so far, that I hadn’t had enough experience to make a decision yet.


But with the spectre of FPAS looming and the prospect of being a doctor becoming frighteningly real, this cop-out of an answer increasingly fails to impress. When I was younger, it showed openness and eagerness. Now it shows a lack of direction, and people follow my reply by listing the specialities, trying to find one that fits on the spot.


Thankfully, I was blessed with a very informative fifth year. Having had a series of attachments on a diverse range of specialities, for the first time, I can actually refine my tastes. I know that in specialities like obstetrics or orthopaedics, I would fit in as well as a mosquito at a malaria clinic. Conversely, I can see myself working in, and importantly, enjoying myself in other specialities.



Thought you wanted to be a real doctor

So now when I am asked what I want to be when I grow up, I can confidently claim that I like the cut of paediatrics’ jib. It appeals to the generalist in me and I enjoy working with children. When I explain this to people, they all nod and smile approvingly. Everybody likes a paediatrician. By whatever metric they use to judge me, taking care of sick children is a ‘good’ job. 


...every presentation of issues of mental health is as unique as the patients they affect. I like that...


However, I still dislike being asked the question because, even though my answer is honest, I feel like a fraud.


I do really like paediatrics but it comes second in my affection after psychiatry. While I find paediatrics interesting, I find psychiatry fascinating. Tenderness in the right iliac fossa can only prove novel so many times but every presentation of issues of mental health is as unique as the patients they affect. I like that, if I am able to help someone, my impact on them could be equivalent to treating meningitis. Psychiatry also offers a generalist approach in its holism.


But when I try and explain this to people, they nod curtly and the conversation wilts. Or they look at me askew and ask, ‘don’t you like medicine any more?’ or ‘I thought you wanted to be a real doctor?’


Trying to reach someone with suicidally deep depression or attempting to help a person with schizophrenia live a stable life is, to most people, a waste of my talents. Psychiatry is a bad job.



Myths and assumptions

Why is this speciality, under-appreciated and under-subscribed, so maligned? Is it because psychiatrists are considered by some to be agents of social control, policing the norms and enforcing rightspeak? Is it because they dole out powerful psychotropic medication (which is, at the same time, equally criticised, equally unjustly, as being no better than placebo) like candy for what is just a case of feeling a bit sad or a rowdy child with bad parenting?



We need to end the medical school cliché that psychiatry is a career for the crazy, eccentric and weird.


The Time to Change campaign aims to end the stigmatisation of issues of mental health, something I am so very keen on. Having witnessed the reality of mental health issues, both professionally and privately, the myths and assumptions I see stagger me. On the eve of my psychiatry attachment, my mum asked me if I was worried about catching schizophrenia from the patients. Yes, she thought it was contagious.


I think we need a parallel campaign to de-stigmatise psychiatry. We need to end the misinformation and hearsay that the likes of Giles Fraser and Ruby Wax replicate in the Guardian and on BBC Radio 4. We need to end the medical school cliché that psychiatry is a career for the crazy, eccentric and weird. We need to change things so that when asked what they want to do, a medical student can proudly reply, ‘Psychiatry.’


With the response, ‘Cool. Good for you.’



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14/10/2013 12:14:48

An elective in psychiatric research


Zurich study

An elective in psychiatric research

As I write, I’m just coming to the end of a seven-week elective spent in Zurich working with Professor Jules Angst. 


Professor Angst is an enormous figure in epidemiological and clinical psychiatry and has hundreds of prestigious publications, so it’s been very exciting to learn from him.


One particular contribution he has made to the field has been the celebrated Zurich Study. Whereas most prospective enquiries seem to last for about five years (or less) before funding dries up or people feel a point is proved and move onto something else, the Zurich Study has followed subjects up for three decades now – with fascinating results. 


When I came, I had the impression that the data collected were largely psychometric with a few demographic details, but in fact the scope is much larger than that, covering somatic symptoms, personality, family characteristics and coping resources, as well as diagnostic information. Numerous analyses have then arisen from these data, tackling questions as diverse as conversion from unipolar to bipolar depression and whether smoking is associated with mental illness.



Building a strong case

Most of the work I’ve been doing has focused on quality of life, an increasingly important metric in medical research. We were interested in how aspects of demographics, personality and somatic symptoms are associated quality of life. In particular, are the relationships any different in a group with high psychopathology compared to a more representative sample? 



The first lesson I’ve learnt from my stay here has been not to make your research or clinical interests too narrow, especially when you’re starting out...


I’ve also had the chance to get involved with some work on suicidality and learn a bit about postpartum psychiatric disorders, so it’s been quite varied.



Enjoy the process

The first lesson I’ve learnt from my stay here has been not to make your research or clinical interests too narrow, especially when you’re starting out: you don’t know how the scientific landscape is going to change, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket. 



Finally, it’s been really instructive to see someone who is still humble in accepting other people’s ideas, despite his own vast experience.


Also, when looking at research findings, don’t just focus narrowly on p-values: examine effect sizes and evaluate whether there is anything interesting happening. 


Finally, it’s been really instructive to see someone who is still humble in accepting other people’s ideas, despite his own vast experience.


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19/08/2013 11:19:15

Process of Applying


The application - drawing on experience

New online resource to help people return to work after mental illness

When I was emailed the advert about the Pathfinder Fellowship from our undergraduate psychiatry course administrator I decided to apply for it although I did not think I would stand a chance of getting it. 


The elective bursary was an attraction but I had already set plans I was excited about which were located in the UK and so money was not my biggest concern. I was more interested in the mentorship scheme on offer and that the fellowship sounded like it would be brilliant in helping me achieve my goal of specialising in psychiatry. 


Although I had only recently decided that psychiatry was the career for me, I felt I had some experience I could draw upon to put into my CV. I felt one of the biggest strengths I could offer was that I had taken a year out doing a BMedSci degree which I had chosen to do in the field of psychiatry, specifically looking at auditory hallucinations in the healthy population. From this I was also able to attend the international congress in Liverpool to present a poster on my study which had stimulated my interest in psychiatry further.



Good links with the psychiatry clinical lead

My advice when writing your CV for the application would be to just consider any experience you have had that has been related to psychiatry. Hopefully you would have done your psychiatry rotation by the time you apply so at the very least you have some experience to dwell upon there. 


I would also suggest that your elective plans should be psychiatry related, but then if you want to become a pathfinder I would expect that that is what you would choose to do anyway. If you have time it may be also worth contacting the psychiatry lead at your university and asking for any additional experience or if there is any research they are doing you could get involved in.  Even if these are for future plans by the time you apply, it will all look good and show your interest in psychiatry and your willingness to go above and beyond your colleagues; and will help your future career as well. To be honest, I would recommend anyone who is interested in psychiatry to get in touch and make good links with the psychiatry clinical lead at their university. I find psychiatrists are often very happy to hear from and help out any student interested in their specialty who is willing to get some further experience. 


In addition make sure to include on your CV any of your other achievements during medical school; academic and non-academic, for example, if you are in any societies showing leadership or teamwork etc as this all shows you are a well-rounded person which is essential to becoming a balanced doctor.



The interview - relax

When it comes to the interview just try and relax as much as possible. The interviewers are not there to scare or intimidate you but want to see what you are like and your motivation for psychiatry. 


For preparation my advice would be to have a think about answers to the obvious questions you may be asked, for example, what it is about psychiatry that interests you, why you’ve chosen to do what you have for your elective/research plans and what it was about your previous psychiatry experiences you enjoyed (and what you didn’t enjoy about them). They are also likely to be keen to hear about your views on what could be done to stimulate interest in psychiatry amongst medical students and why many students are put off going into the specialty, and also about how you think we could reduce the stigma of mental health illness amongst the general population. Apart from that maybe have a read of some current psychiatric research/issues you are particularly interested in. 



It is not often you have the chance to talk to fellow students who are as interested in psychiatry as you are...


On the day on the interview its worth getting there a bit before you are due to go in so you can relax after the stressful London commute and it is also nice to have the opportunity to speak to some of the other applicants waiting. It is not often you have the chance to talk to fellow students who are as interested in psychiatry as you are and it is good to hear about others’ experience and future plans.



Why it's worth applying?

If you are thinking psychiatry is the field for you then I would whole heartedly recommend applying to become a Pathfinder Fellow. I am loving it and already finding it very useful. 


As I said at the start, I applied thinking I did not stand a chance of getting it, but in medicine you have to go for what you want - you may surprise yourself. At the very least it is an opportunity to see the Royal College, meet some like-minded students and eminent psychiatrists, and practise being interviewed; and if you do get awarded one of the fellowships you will have a wealth of opportunities opened up to you. 


If you have any questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Good luck to you all!



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05/08/2013 14:56:11

Becoming a Pathfinder Fellow


Too good to refuse

RCPsych Informatics Committee: survey

I decided to apply for a Pathfinder Fellowship because I was interested in Psychiatry and liked what the opportunity offered:


  • elective funding,
  • free journals
  • the potential to meet like-minded people. 

I started thinking about my application about a month before the deadline, but ideally it’s probably best to give it some consideration as soon as possible, so you can try to get any additional experiences that might be helpful.



Building a strong case

Essentially, I was trying to prove two things: firstly, that I was interested in Psychiatry and, secondly, that I was a good medical student. When putting together your CV and cover letter, it’s worth brain-storming everything you’ve ever done that might be relevant – from school onwards. 



Look through your application again, because you’ll be asked about what you’ve written.

In terms of your academic profile, think of any special study modules or SSCs you may have done that are related to Neuroscience, Psychology or Psychiatry. Consider any areas of your course that have particularly interested you and ask why that was. If you’ve won any prizes or earned special recognition for some piece of work, it’s worth mentioning. 


Outside of your course, think about extra-curricular activities where you’ve displayed leadership, imagination or drive. If you’ve been to any conferences, consider how they have informed your thinking and your practice.  When you’re putting all of this together, try to form it into some coherent structure, grouping activities by category and showing that they have a particular purpose and importance.



Enjoy the process

If you’re offered an interview, enjoy it!  You’ll be talking with people who are just as interested in Psychiatry as you – they just know a bit more.’s worth brain-storming everything you’ve ever done that might be relevant – from school onwards.

Look through your application again, because you’ll be asked about what you’ve written. Make sure you can concisely explain any research or publications you’ve undertaken in an enthusiastic but coherent way.  It’s worth asking a supervisor or friend if they can do a practice run with you as well. 


It’s a good idea to keep up-to-date with any Psychiatry issues that may have arisen recently in the media and reading a few articles in good journals in the weeks before the interview is helpful.


If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch at Good luck!



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