Newly-qualified doctors spend their first two years practising across a variety of disciplines in order to build up a broad base of experience. After this initial trial by fire, the time comes when they must choose their preferred specialism. There’s a great deal of competition to gain entry to the most popular fields, yet some specialist areas suffer a marked lack of interest, with psychiatry consistently failing to attract sufficient numbers of junior doctors to fill posts around the UK. In fact, the problem has become so pronounced that the Royal College of Psychiatrists has launched a programme to boost the number of psychiatry applicants.
There are a number of possible explanations for the lack of would-be psychiatrists, and one compelling argument is that after so many years of anatomy-based study, doctors choosing psychiatry may feel that all their earlier hard work will go to waste. Yet the truth is that psychiatry is not so far removed from anatomical medicine as one might think. Many mental conditions are caused by physiological factors, such as infections, chemical imbalances or drug misuse. And many psychiatric conditions can lead to serious physical problems. So there are close ties between physiological and psychological wellbeing.
State-of-the-art clinical research
Another reason many junior doctors shun psychiatry is because they feel it lacks the scientific basis that underpins other specialisms. Yet whilst it is true that psychiatry is not an exact science, and there will not always be clear answers to be found, or diagnoses to be made, the same is true of many other disciplines. It is also true that psychiatric practice is led by research and clinical trials, and the rigorous disciplines of psychiatric research are no different to those employed in other fields. In fact, psychiatry offers a great more research opportunities than almost any other branch of medicine.
It is an old joke that in private practice, psychiatric patients provide the best source of income because they never get better. But this simply isn’t true. The vast majority of psychiatric patients enjoy a complete recovery, and those who don’t recover, frequently benefit from significant help and support to help them enjoy a good quality of life. So psychiatrists enjoy the same sense of fulfilment as other doctors when curing a patient.
A diverse range of challenging opportunities
Psychiatry offers countless opportunities for talented young medics wishing to apply their skills, knowledge and understanding to best effect, and the roles on offer are as diverse as within other specialisms. So the question why psychiatry suffers from this lack of interest remains unanswered. The good news is that the traditional reasons put forward appear to be utterly unfounded, so perhaps the recruitment drive by the Royal College of Psychiatrists will be well rewarded.
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