Background. Some doctors who initially choose psychiatry do not pursue it as a long-term career. The study seeks to identify reasons for leaving psychiatry.
Method. Postal questionnaire survey of UK medical graduates of 1988, 1993, 1996 and 1999 identified as having left psychiatry; for comparison, doctors who left general practice or trauma and orthopaedics.
Results. Response rate was 74% (572/778); 488 respondents satisfied study criteria (59 psychiatry, 318 general practice, 111 trauma and orthopaedics). The speciality's poor public image, perceived lack of respect from medical peers, perceived threat of violence from patients, under-resourcing and low morale were problems for psychiatry leavers. Job stress, self-assessed unsuitability, and concerns about the lack of evidence-based treatments also influenced decisions to leave psychiatry.
Conclusions. Early exposure to psychiatry may help trainees assess their suitability. Negative perceptions of workforce issues (e.g. low morale) and of clinical issues (e.g. perceived lack of ability to improve prognosis) need addressing to increase retention.