Aims: The aim of the present study was to explore medical students' beliefs and attitudes towards people with schizophrenia (PwS) prior to receiving any training in psychiatry and to assess the impact of the psychiatric placement on changing them.
Methods: A questionnaire addressing beliefs, attitudes and desired social distance from PwS was distributed to all final year medical students before the beginning of their 4-week undergraduate psychiatric placement and upon its completion.
Results: Students did not endorse stereotypes commonly attached to PwS, such as being dangerous, lazy or of lower intelligence, but they held the view that PwS are unpredictable and suffer from split personality. Furthermore, the baseline level of desired social distance was found to increase as the intimacy of the interaction increased, and the only variable associated with it was personal experience of serious mental illness. Moreover, the placement was found to have either no influence at all or in a negative direction. Upon its completion more students were found to believe that PwS cannot recover, have no insight into their condition, cannot make reasonable decisions, cannot work in regular jobs and are dangerous to the public. No difference was recorded in social distance scores.
Conclusions: A close and critical examination of the various elements of the undergraduate placement in psychiatry is needed in order to develop an evidence-based, fully rounded education with an anti-stigma orientation.