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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;45(10):861-70. doi: 10.3109/00048674.2011.604301. Epub 2011 Sep 17.

Who picks psychiatry? Perceptions, preferences and personality of medical students.

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CADE Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, New South Wales 2065, Australia.



This study aimed to characterise the personality profiles of junior medical students most likely to choose psychiatry as a career, determine aspects of psychiatry that most attract potential recruits, and identify misperceptions about psychiatry that may dissuade students from pursuing this specialism.


A total of 580 second-year medical students from the University of New South Wales, Australia completed a set of questionnaires that measured the likelihood with which various medical specialties were being considered as careers, personality traits using the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), and the degree to which students perceived each specialty as attractive across a number of parameters.


Only 86 students (15%) indicated a strong likelihood of choosing psychiatry, compared to other specialties which attracted higher proportions of students (range 19-49%). These 86 students had significantly higher openness scores than those who indicated a lesser likelihood of pursuing psychiatry. Students who were highly interested in psychiatry ranked it as very attractive in respect to providing interesting and challenging subject matter, and relatively attractive in respect to financial reward, work enjoyment, good lifestyle, having a bright and interesting future, and association with colleagues. However, psychiatry remained less attractive with respect to prestige, perceived low effectiveness of treatments, degree to which it draws upon aspects of medical training, and lack of reliable scientific foundation. Within the entire sample, psychiatry was ranked most unattractive compared to the other specialties across eight of the 13 parameters assessed.


Students interested in psychiatry are more likely to be 'open' and view the specialty as interesting and challenging. Such characteristics should be promoted more widely along with countering myths that as a specialty, psychiatry lacks a scientific foundation or is somehow different from mainstream medicine in terms of training and outcomes. Championing psychiatry in this manner may attract more recruits and enhance its prestige.

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