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Med Educ. 2008 Nov;42(11):1080-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03183.x. Epub 2008 Oct 1.

Medical students' attitudes to psychiatric illness in primary care.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Birmingham Medical School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.



Previous research has shown that general practitioners (GPs) hold negative attitudes towards patients with schizophrenia, which do not simply reflect the nature or chronic aspects of the illness. This study aimed to describe the attitudes and predicted behaviour of medical students towards patients with mental illness in a primary care setting and to investigate whether these were affected by the students' level of training.


A sample of 1239 students from the University of Birmingham Medical School were each given one of four case vignettes, all of which were identical except that the patient involved was described as having a previous diagnosis of, respectively, schizophrenia, depression, diabetes or no illness. Students rated their level of agreement with 12 attitudinal statements relating to the vignette.


A total of 1081 (88%) students responded to the questionnaire. Students were generally less favourable in their responses to patients with either schizophrenia or depression. They would not be as happy to have them on their list, believed they would consume more time and considered they would be less likely to comply with advice and treatment. They expressed more concern about the risk of violence, the potential welfare of children and the possibility of illegal drug and excessive alcohol use. General clinical and psychiatric training had little effect on these reactions.


Patients with mental illness provoke less favourable responses in medical students, which are not altered by furthering education. Undergraduate primary care-based mental health education should be re-evaluated to ensure that students develop an empathetic and positive approach to mental health patients and their treatment.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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