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Changing attitudes to psychiatry and interest in the specialty as a career choice during clinical undergraduate years at a medical school in Penang, Malaysia



Studies have suggested that the undergraduate clinical clerkship improves medical students’ attitudes to psychiatry and career interest in the specialty, but few studies have explored the sustainability of these changes.


To explore changes in students’ attitudes to psychiatry and career preference for psychiatry during the course of their senior clinical years at RCSI & UCD Malaysia Campus (RUMC).


All year 3 students (n = 111) at RUMC were invited to complete the Attitudes towards Psychiatry questionnaire (ATP-30) and a separate questionnaire seeking opinions on career preferences. The questionnaires were administered at 3 points in time: in year 3 before the 8-week psychiatry posting, following completion of the posting in year 4, and at the end of year 5. Quantitative data analysis was performed using SPSS version 18, and free-text responses were thematically analysed.


One hundred completed questionnaires (90.1%) were returned. There was a significant improvement in students’ ATP scores after their psychiatry rotation and this was sustained into year 5. Psychiatry as a career choice had highest preference levels following completion of the clerkship but declined in year 5 to below pre-clerkship preference levels. Qualitative analysis of factors influencing a career in psychiatry revealed themes of job satisfaction, lifestyle factors, perceived image of psychiatry, and self-appraisal.


Our findings suggest that an enriched undergraduate clinical clerkship experience can help to sustain improved attitudes to psychiatry into the final medical year. However, declining interest in the specialty a career choice prior to graduation presents an enduring challenge.

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The authors thank the students and staff of RCSI and UCD Malaysia Campus.

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Correspondence to Vincent Russell.

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Hor, E.S.L., Russell, V., Vasudevan, U. et al. Changing attitudes to psychiatry and interest in the specialty as a career choice during clinical undergraduate years at a medical school in Penang, Malaysia. Ir J Med Sci 189, 253–259 (2020).

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