Is Psychiatry Popular Amongst Medical Students?
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 17, 2014
“Consider these numbers. While 37.6% of practicing physicians are age 55 or older, in psychiatry nearly 55% are in this age range, ranking as the second oldest group of physicians, surpassed only by preventive medicine. Part of this aging cohort effect is the low rate of medical school graduates choosing psychiatry. Only 4% of US medical school seniors (n = 698) applied for one of the 1097 post-graduate year one training positions in psychiatry2. As Dr. Roberts noted, it is troubling that the area of medicine addressing the leading source of medical disability is also facing a shortage of new talent. Indeed, over the past decade the number of psychiatry training programs has fallen (from 186 to 181) and the number of graduates has dropped from 1,142 in 2000 to 985 in 2008. In spite of the national shortage of psychiatrists, especially child psychiatrists, 16 residency training programs did not fill with either U.S. or foreign medical graduates in 20113.”
So, Shelly is right! Fewer medical students are going into psychiatry, creating a shortage of psychiatrists in this country. And yet, on the Westside of Los Angeles, there is no shortage. In addition to declining numbers, psychiatrists clump together in affluent areas, so they are not evenly distributed throughout the country. My “club” is smaller and older than it used to be for reasons that make me speculate about the changing nature of psychiatry. Seeing quick-fixes, not only does not hit the deeper issues of mental health, it also does not satisfy the deep craving, in many prospective psychiatrists, to drill down into the mental apparatus, curious about motivation, feelings, and thoughts.
Who are these four percent of medical students opting for a career as a psychiatrist? Do they, like the joke implies, hate blood? Or, are they the “humanities type,” who only went to medical school to please a parent, and once there, wanted to revert back to their primary interest in literature, which psychiatry most resembles. Or, are they are neuroscientists of the future, studying nematodes as a window into the human brain? Or, do they see a “lifestyle choice,” as a physician who by and large has little on-call duties? Or, maybe they have had their own psychic trauma, pushing them towards helping others, and maybe helping themselves at the same time? I wonder. I talk to prospective psychiatry residents on a weekly basis, as they tour around the country looking for their next step, their residency. I see the “best and the brightest,” meaning that the students I chat with have impressive accomplishments and strong verbal skills. They all seem like a wonderful addition to my field, but my field needs to utilize their intelligence to its maximal good for patient care, not minimize the need for intelligence, and propose superficial treatments for deep problems.