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Am J Psychiatry. 1998 Jul;155(7):889-94.

Characteristics of psychiatrists who perform ECT.

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Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., USA.



Use of ECT is highly variable, and previous study has linked its availability to the geographic concentration of psychiatrists. However, less than 8% of all U.S. psychiatrists provide ECT. The authors analyzed the characteristics of psychiatrists who use ECT to understand more fully the variation in its use and how changes in the psychiatric workforce may affect its availability.


Data from the 1988-1989 Professional Activities Survey were examined to investigate the influence of demographic, training, clinical practice, and geographic characteristics on whether psychiatrists use ECT.


Psychiatrists who provided ECT were more likely to be male, to have graduated from a medical school outside the United States, and to have been trained in the 1960s or 1980s rather than the 1970s. They were more likely to provide medications than psychotherapy, to practice at private rather than state and county public hospitals, to treat patients with affective and organic disorders, and to practice in a county containing an academic medical center.


Demographic and training characteristics significantly influence whether a psychiatrist uses ECT. Opposing trends in the U.S. psychiatric workforce could affect the availability of the procedure. Expanding training opportunities for ECT and making education, training, and testing more consistent nationwide could improve clinicians' consensus about ECT and narrow variation in its use.

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