Introduction: There are many myths and misconceptions around ageing. Studies have explored existing attitudes among healthcare professionals involved in caring for the elderly, with varied results. Medical students need to be prepared to care for the rapidly growing elderly population. Yet studies show that working with older adults seems to be the least favoured career choice among graduating medical students. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the prevalent attitudes among fourth year medical students towards older people, their perceptions towards the medical speciality of geriatrics and to assess if the residential attachment alters these perceptions and attitudes in any way. In addition the study also assessed the attitudes of students to Geriatric Medicine (GM) as a potential career choice, and whether the attachment has any influence on this.
Sampling methods: A validated (University of California Los Angeles Geriatric Attitudes Scale) 14-item questionnaire was administered to fourth year QUB medical students at the QUB Geriatrics Department at the start and end of the 3-week clinical attachment.
Results: Seventy pre-attachment and 70 post-attachment questionnaires were completed by fourth year medical students. Students displayed positive attitudes towards elderly patients and Geriatrics, even prior to the clinical attachment. Following the attachment positive attitudes had increased overall, and this change was statistically significant. In addition the students showed a consistent positive shift towards the consideration of GM as a potential future career choice following the attachment.
Conclusion: This study confirms that medical education has an important role in influencing students' attitudes positively. This is especially important in the field of GM, as misconceptions around ageing can influence attitudes adversely. The valuable contribution of the geriatric attachment in influencing the attitudes of students positively towards the elderly and influencing potential career choice is highlighted by this study.