Objectives This study examined determinants of students' attitudes to psychiatry and intentions to pursue psychiatry as a career, considering: (1) experiences during the clinical attachment; (2) type of curriculum (traditional or problem-based), and (3) student characteristics (age and gender). The relationships between attitudes, career intentions and academic performance were examined.
Method Fourth year medical students (n = 379) completed questionnaires at the beginning and end of an 8-week psychiatry attachment to assess their attitudes to psychiatry, career intentions and experiences during the attachment. Students completed two assessments consisting of a multiple choice paper and a clinical viva. Consecutive cohorts of students receiving a traditional curriculum (n = 188) and a problem-based curriculum (n = 191) were compared.
Results Students' attitudes to psychiatry improved and intentions to pursue psychiatry as a career increased during the attachment. These changes were predicted by specific experiences during the attachment, such as receiving encouragement from consultants, seeing patients respond well to treatment and having direct involvement in patient care. There was no difference in change in attitudes or career intentions between the two cohorts. Students with more favourable attitudes or career intentions at the outset did not report more favourable experiences during the attachment. Attitudes and career intentions were unrelated to performance in psychiatry assessments. Improvement in attitudes was related to an increased intention to pursue psychiatry as a career.
Conclusions Change in attitudes and career intentions was dependent on the actions of the clinical teachers. Undergraduate teachers may have an important influence on the numbers of doctors who choose this specialty as a career.