Psychiatry and emergency medicine: medical student and physician attitudes toward homeless persons

Ann Morrison, Brenda Roman, Nicole Borges
Academic Psychiatry 2012 May 1, 36 (3): 211-5

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of the study was to explore changes in medical students' attitudes toward homeless persons during the Psychiatry and Emergency Medicine clerkships. Simultaneously, this study explored attitudes toward homeless persons held by Psychiatry and Emergency Medicine residents and faculty in an attempt to uncover the "hidden curriculum" in medical education, in which values are communicated from teacher to student outside of the formal instruction.

METHOD: A group of 79 students on Psychiatry and 66 on Emergency Medicine clerkships were surveyed at the beginning and end of their rotation regarding their attitudes toward homeless persons by use of the Health Professionals' Attitudes Toward the Homeless Inventory (HPATHI). The HPATHI was also administered to 31 Psychiatry residents and faculty and 41 Emergency Medicine residents and faculty one time during the course of this study.

RESULTS: For Psychiatry clerks, t-tests showed significant differences pre- and post-clerkship experiences on 2 of the 23 items on the HPATHI. No statistically significant differences were noted for the Emergency Medicine students. An analysis of variance revealed statistically significant differences on 7 out of the 23 survey questions for residents and faculty in Psychiatry, as compared with those in Emergency Medicine.

CONCLUSION: Results suggest that medical students showed small differences in their attitudes toward homeless people following clerkships in Psychiatry but not in Emergency Medicine. Regarding resident and faculty results, significant differences between specialties were noted, with Psychiatry residents and faculty exhibiting more favorable attitudes toward homeless persons than residents and faculty in Emergency Medicine. Given that medical student competencies should be addressing the broader social issues of homelessness, medical schools need to first understand the attitudes of medical students to such issues, and then develop curricula to overcome inaccurate or stigmatizing beliefs.

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