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BMC Med Educ. 2018 Jan 2;18(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s12909-017-1109-7.

Medical student experiences in prison health services and social cognitive career choice: a qualitative study.

Author information

1
School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, 2751, Australia.
2
School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, 2751, Australia. p.abbott@westernsydney.edu.au.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

One of the purposes of undergraduate medical education is to assist students to consider their future career paths in medicine, alongside the needs of the societies in which they will serve. Amongst the most medically underserved groups of society are people in prison and those with a history of incarceration. In this study we examined the experiences of medical students undertaking General Practice placements in a prison health service. We used the theoretical framework of the Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) to explore the potential of these placements to influence the career choices of medical students.

METHODS:

Questionnaire and interview data were collected from final year students, comprising pre and post placement questionnaire free text responses and post placement semi-structured interviews. Data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis, with reference to concepts from the SCCT Interest Model to further develop the findings.

RESULTS:

Clinical education delivered in a prison setting can provide learning that includes exposure to a wide variety of physical and mental health conditions and also has the potential to stimulate career interest in an under-served area. While students identified many challenges in the work of a prison doctor, increased confidence (SCCT- Self-Efficacy) occurred through performance success within challenging consultations and growth in a professional approach to prisoners and people with a history of incarceration. Positive expectations (SCCT- Outcome Expectations) of fulfilling personal values and social justice aims and of achieving public health outcomes, and a greater awareness of work as a prison doctor, including stereotype rejection, promoted student interest in working with people in contact with the criminal justice system.

CONCLUSION:

Placements in prison health services can stimulate student interest in working with prisoners and ex-prisoners by either consolidating pre-existing interest or expanding interest into a field they had not previously considered. An important aspect of such learning is the opportunity to overcome negative preconceptions of consultations with prisoners.

KEYWORDS:

Career choice; Empathy; General practice; Health equity; Medical education; Prisoners; Prisons; Social cognitive career theory

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