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Medical Student Interest in Psychiatry

Electronic Winter 2021  |  Issue 49

Medical Student Interest in Psychiatry
By: Akshay Patke
I recall sharing my interest in psychiatry with my classmates as an M1 and being met with puzzled looks paired with comments about why they could and would never do that. I imagine this was likely an unfortunate, yet common, experience amongst students and professionals in mental health. However, less than the opinions of my classmates, I felt more concerned with how lost I felt in comparison to them. Many of my classmates swiftly collected mentors from multiple specialties with the administration directly supporting and advertising an abundance of talks and opportunities in internal medicine and surgical subspecialties. Any engagement about psychiatry or mental health, students had to seek out on their own. 

Toward the end of my first year, my school’s psychiatry interest group hosted a talk by Illinois Psychiatric Society’s own past president Dr. James MacKenzie. Dr. MacKenzie managed to stir some excitement in a particularly sleep deprived post-exam crowd of students as he riffed on reckoning with mental health stigma as it affects patients and the medical profession while also making a strong case for why medical students should seriously consider psychiatry. I was fortunate to connect with Dr. MacKenzie after his talk and among many things we discussed, we agreed how difficult it was for medical students to gain exposure or mentorship in psychiatry. We both remarked how there are an abundance of medical schools in the Chicagoland area along with their own Psychiatry interest groups whose members may or may not be involved with PsychSIGN-- the student section of the American Psychiatric Association. We both shared positive experiences with PsychSIGN’s annual conference, yet we felt there were unmet needs for medical students in Illinois. Simple tasks like connecting students with local mentors, having the opportunity to learn about local issues, or even getting involved in advocacy if they were so inclined. This conversation launched Dr. MacKenzie, my fellow Chicago Medical School (CMS) classmates Jim Zhang and Kirin Tiwary, Austin Gephart from Midwestern University, and myself to gather a group of students from Chicagoland medical schools. Last year we pulled together a group with students from UIC, Loyola, Midwestern, Northwestern, and CMS. Having met a couple times throughout the year, we identified issues we wished to address as students interested in psychiatry. Some were as anticipated such as mentorship, organizing cross-institutional lectures, and local advocacy. However, some topics were unexpected, such as the immense surge in need for counseling services for students due to the pandemic and the difficult reality many of our members faced in attempting to advocate for increased availability with their school administration. I was incredibly glad to hear that the APA and IPS were now accepting medical students as members and imagined this would allow our new committee to reach a wider range of students to work on the issues we identified and perhaps more.

In the brief time since my first year, medical students' opinion of psychiatry has changed considerably - now often regarded as a specialty in vogue or “the new dermatology.” It’s my hope we can capitalize on this momentum to welcome more enthusiastic and passionate students to the field and support their journey to becoming excellent physicians and patient advocates. 
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