Yale study: Early exposure to neuropsychiatry in college could attract more neuroscience majors to psychiatry

Brain-based specialties like neurology are attracting more undergraduate neuroscience majors than psychiatry in medical school, a trend two Yale researchers say could be improved with more early exposure to neuropsychiatry in college.

Matthew N. Goldenberg, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, and John H. Krystal, MD, Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Neuroscience and Chair of the Yale Department of Psychiatry analyzed U.S. medical school matriculation and graduation data from 2013 and 2014. They found that medical students with an undergraduate neuroscience major showed a preference for neurology (21.5 percent) at the start of medical school compared to 13.1 percent for neurosurgery and 11 percent for internal medicine. Only 2.3 percent preferred psychiatry.

Psychiatry generated more interest by the time medical students graduated, with 5.1 percent of undergraduate neuroscience majors choosing the specialty. Interest in neurology and neurosurgery showed a slight decline by graduation, according to the study, published online in the journal Academic Psychiatry.

“Psychiatry struggles to attract neuroscience majors to the specialty,” the authors wrote. “This missed opportunity is an obstacle to developing the neuroscience literacy of the workforce and jeopardizes the neuroscientific future of our field.”

They said communicating advances in psychiatric neuroscience to college students and providing more early training and exposure to neuropsychiatry might spark more interest in the specialty.

“Having psychiatric medical school faculty members partner with undergraduate neuroscience course leaders to serve as visiting lecturers or otherwise assist in embuing clinical neuroscience into curricula may be one approach,” they wrote. “There is evidence that scientists’ visits to undergraduate classrooms improve student attitudes toward neuroscience.”

Efforts should be made to have college neuroscience students visit psychiatry training programs or work in laboratories that focus on psychiatric neuroscience, the researchers wrote.

Data indicates neuroscience majors show more interest in psychiatry over the course of medical school. “This trend mirrors the growing interest in psychiatry among all students during medical school and suggests that certain aspect (s) of the medical school experience make psychiatry more appealing,” the authors wrote. “The increase further suggests that initial ignorance about the field is a major stumbling block to recruiting students into psychiatry.”

The researchers did not determine why some neuroscience majors switched to psychiatry, but they wrote that a positive experience with their clerkship and placing a high value on work-life balance might be factors.

This article was submitted by Christopher S Gardner on February 16, 2017.