Mental Illness Stigma Deters Medical Students From Psychiatry

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People that suffer from mental illness often face  stigma as a result, but that stigma may also be one of the reasons why relatively few medical students choose psychiatry as their specialty.

Only about 4% of U.S. medical school graduates pursue psychiatry, which results in nearly half of all psychiatry residency positions in the U.S. going to international graduates.

Adam Brenner, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas,Texas, believes the reason why is that the same stigmas that some people hold against people with mental disorders are often held by physicians as well.

“Physician attitudes towards mental illness – even after their medical education – reflect the general public’s prejudice,” Brenner writes on The Conversion website. “As a result, patients with mental illness typically do not receive the same quality of care for their medical illnesses compared to their peers without mental illness.”

Brenner also says that another reason for medical student lack of interest in psychiatry may have to do with the fact that psychiatrists typically have a lower income relative to other specialties.

“If we’re going to make progress in recruiting the psychiatrists that we need, we need to make sure that students have plenty of opportunity to meet patients who are reclaiming their best selves in recovery from mental illness and addiction,” Brenner concludes. “We also need to make sure they can work with psychiatrists who are proud to work with people who are living with such disturbing and frightening, but ultimately treatable, illnesses.”

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Mental Illness Stigma Deters Medical Students From Psychiatry

Mental illness is a major public health problem in the United States. Suicide alone takes the lives of 38,000 Americans each year, more than double that from homicide. Medical and surgical patients who also have mental illness often experience worse outcomes. And yet, in the face of these glaring challenges, we struggle with an ongoing shortage of psychiatrists.

Psychiatry, as it happens, is not a popular specialty among medical students. Only about 4% of U.S. medical graduates choose psychiatry. As a result, close to half of psychiatry residency positions in the U.S. are filled by international medical graduates, compared to roughly a quarter for general surgery or obstetrics and gynecology. Why is there so little interest in psychiatry?

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