Shrinking away from psychiatry? A survey of Australian medical students’ interest in psychiatry


  • Gin S. Malhi,

  • Gordon B. Parker,

  • Kay Parker,

  • Kenneth C. Kirkby,

  • Philip Boyce,

  • Peter Yellowlees,

  • Charles Hornabrook,

  • Ken Jones

Gin S. Malhi, Senior Lecturer (Correspondence)
School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia Email:
Gordon B. Parker, Professor and Head
School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Kay Parker, Senior Research Associate
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Kenneth C. Kirkby, Professor
University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
Philip Boyce, Professor
University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Peter Yellowees, Professor
Department of Psychiatry, University of Queensland, Brisbane, ­Australia
Charles Hornabrook Cojoint Lecturer
University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia
Ken Jones, Associate Professor
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.


Objective:  We sought to examine the attitudes of newly recruited medical students towards psychiatry and other specialties to determine what factors influence their career choice options.

Method:  We surveyed the attitudes of 655 medical students using a 31-item self-report questionnaire.

Results:  Australian medical students rated the ability to help patients as the most important aspect of a specialty in determining their choice. Attraction to psychiatry was based on the specialty being interesting and intellectually challenging, and providing a career that promised job satisfaction with good prospects and enjoyable work. Females expressed a greater interest in psychiatry and were more likely to consider pursuing it as a career, principally due to a greater interest in the subject matter and a stronger desire for interaction with patients. The least attractive aspects of psychiatry were its lack of prestige among the medical community and a perceived absence of a scientific foundation.

Conclusion: The attitudes of medical students can perhaps be modified and recruitment into psychiatry enhanced by presenting the reality of psychiatry today − namely the wide range of available therapeutic processes, the predominantly positive outcomes, the interesting and intellectually challenging nature of the subject and its nurturing and accommodating work environment.