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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