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

Short placements could switch medical students on to psychiatry

Embargoed until 21 June 2010

It’s well known that psychiatry suffers from an image problem, with many medical students not viewing it as an attractive career option compared to other specialties.

But a new Scottish study, presented today at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh, suggests that students who complete a short placement in psychiatry end up viewing the specialty far more positively.

Dr Aravinthan Subbarayan from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and Dr Stephen Carey from Stratheden Hospital in Fife, surveyed 70 fourth-year medical students who carried out a four-week placement in psychiatry.

Before the placement, four-fifths (83%) of the students said they considered psychiatry to be an intellectually stimulating and interesting specialty. However, only a quarter (25%) said they found it appealing as a career, with the majority believing it was not perceived as a prestigious career by either the public or by other doctors. After the placement, however, the percentage of students saying they found psychiatry appealing as a career jumped from 25% to 70%. After the placement, the vast majority of students (94%) reported enjoying psychiatry.

Dr Subbarayan, an ST5 in general adult psychiatry at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, said: “There was a positive shift in attitude after the short placements, resulting in two-thirds of students considering psychiatry as a career option compared to only a quarter before. This could be a transient change, but it seems to be a wonderful window of opportunity which – with further efforts – could attract greater numbers of interested doctors to our specialty.”

Meanwhile a separate piece of research, also being presented at the RCPsych International Congress, clearly shows the effect of psychiatric stigma on doctors’ career choices.

Researchers asked 51 psychiatrists and 50 non-psychiatrists from Birmingham and Coventry about their opinions of different medical specialties. Among the psychiatrists, 57% thought the most respected specialty was surgery. However the majority (also 57%) felt their own specialty, psychiatry, was the least respected. Of the non-psychiatrists, the most respected specialty was felt to be medicine (54%), while the least respected specialties were general practice (30%) and psychiatry (28%).

Many of the psychiatrists said they felt stigmatised within their own profession. Two-fifths (41%) thought their advice was not valued by non-psychiatric colleagues, while over half (55%) felt there was a stigma attached to being associated with mental illness. Two-thirds (63%) felt that trainees did not choose psychiatry because they perceived it as being ‘un-medical’.

Lead researcher Dr Gayathri Burrah, of Coventry & Warwickshire Partnership Trust, said: “We found differences in how psychiatry is viewed by psychiatrists and other medical professionals. This may explain some of the problems with recruitment into psychiatry.”


For further information, please contact:
Kathy Oxtoby or Deborah Hart in the Communications Department.

Telephone: 0203 701 2544 or 0203 701 2538

 

References:

The two pieces of research were presented at the 2010 International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Edinburgh, 21-24 June.

 

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