Objective: This study was conducted to gauge the attitude of fifth year medical students to psychiatry as a potential career choice and to determine if an eight-week clinical attachment had any impact on this.
Methods: We surveyed a cohort of fifth year medical students from Trinity College Dublin. A purpose designed, self-completed questionnaire was used to establish a number of variables and was given to students on the first and last day of their attachment in psychiatry. Participation was optional and responses were confidential. Questionnaires were distributed following an explanation of the purpose of the study.
Results: The survey was applied to 118 fifth year medical students. The most significant finding of the study was the increase in number of students choosing psychiatry (17%) as a possible career upon completion of the attachment as compared to before (4%). The majority of the students considered psychiatry as a mainstream specialty with little change in this perception pre and post attachment. Almost all of the students believed that a psychiatry posting would improve their communication skills when dealing with patients.
Approximately half of students chose medical subspecialties as career choice prior to their psychiatry posting but this declined afterwards. There was a small increase in the number of students wanting to become GPs and those who were undecided about their potential career choice.
With regards to deterrents to doing psychiatry, the principal one was the belief that psychiatry was too depressing and stressful. Lack of interest, adverse career prospects and financial considerations featured in a minority of student answers.
Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that psychiatry remains less attractive to students as a career compared to some other specialities but a clinical attachment may be an important means of raising interest in psychiatry as a career.