At the time of writing this chapter, we were both about to graduate in medicine from the University of Glasgow. We have been exposed to the specialty of psychiatry in a number of guises. These include a 5-week core curriculum placement, two 5-week student-selected components in psychiatric subspecialties and a 1-year intercalated bachelor of science degree in psychological medicine. From our experience, students often feel that they have had inadequate exposure to psychiatry. This may be because many complete only the minimum of 5 weeks in undergraduate training, often confined to one specialty and under the care of one supervisor. This can give an extremely narrowed, skewed view of what psychiatry is all about. Indeed, the specialty is truly suffering from an image problem (Malhi et al, 2003) and the misconceptions regarding the specialty harm recruitment. Students are often put off psychiatry because they perceive it to be too far removed from the rest of medicine, with little scientific basis and ineffective treatments (see Chapter 21). In order to challenge these negative perceptions and give students a chance to appreciate psychiatry, we feel that the undergraduate curriculum should be expanded. In this chapter we first argue the case for student-selected components, or modules, as a particularly effective means of doing this. We then comment on our experiences of other exposures to psychiatry.
What are student-selected components?
Student-selected components (SSCs) are elements of the modern medical curriculum recommended by the General Medical Council (2003) in Tomorrow's Doctors. During an SSC, students are given an allocated amount of time within the core curriculum usually to study a particular area of medicine at a level greater than is necessarily needed for pre-registration year (General Medical Council, 2003).
The amount of time allocated to SSCs depends on each medical school's individual preference but, according to the General Medical Council (2003), it should be 25–33% of the total curriculum in a traditional 5-year course. It is also recommended that, of the components completed by students, two-thirds should relate directly to medicine. Examples of non-medical SSCs include languages such as French and Spanish. The modules can be based in a laboratory, classroom, research facility or in a clinical environment.
SSCs are one of the only components of the curriculum that promote the development of individuality in what is otherwise a uniform degree.