Encouraging our medical students to consider psychiatry

Blog Post by Michael Casher, MD, Director, Psychiatry Adult Inpatient Program, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan Medical School

Psychiatry is an exciting field with so many specialties within it that will fit virtually any student’s needs.  This at least is what I and most of my colleagues think.  But how do we communicate this to the talented medical students that pass through their mandatory psychiatric clerkships?  After all, they are bombarded with identical pitches from all the other specialties within the entire medical field, some of which may appear more “glamorous” than psychiatry. 

My co-author Josh Bess and I have come to believe that the inpatient psychiatry rotation is an excellent way to win over converts to psychiatry.  On the inpatient unit, the students can see patients in extremis who are suffering with acute phases of psychiatric illness.  We do not have to search far back from our own recent hospital cases to find fascinating examples of psychiatric conditions.  On our University of Michigan psychiatric unit we have recently seen a woman with erotomania who believed that a young man she barely knew was destined to be her eternal love, several patients in catatonic states, and a psychotic young man who took his hands off the steering wheel on the highway (!) in response to the voice of God.  And these are just a sampling of the kinds of patients we see. Needless to say, the students assigned to these cases found them highly interesting, and were even more gratified by how much we could help these patients recover.  To be able to see a patient progress through psychosis, for example, leaves the student with a great feeling about psychiatry and our ability to treat severe illness. 

Spending time on the inpatient unit is an excellent way for students to become acquainted with the variety of psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressions, and dementias.  We have designed our new book Manual of Inpatient Psychiatry so that it is accessible to medical students as well as residents and more advanced psychiatrists. The question and answer format anticipates the kind of questions that students and residents ask us all the time.  Cambridge has helped us keep the manual in a form that fits easily into the lab coat pocket.  We are hopeful that it will be one more tool in our endeavor to make psychiatry interesting and rewarding for students of all ages and levels!

Michael Casher is a co- author of Manual of Inpatient Psychiatry, published by Cambridge University Press

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