MENTAL health problems should not prevent trainees from pursuing a career in medicine, new General Medical Council guidance says.
Sufferers should instead be given advice about the support available to help them. They should also be offered reassurance that “in almost every case a mental health condition does not prevent a student from completing his or her course and continuing a career in medicine.”
The advice is detailed in The responsibilities of medical schools to support students with mental health conditions, developed jointly by the GMC and the Medical Schools Council.
The guidance says medical students are often reluctant to ask for help and that “this has to change.”
Trainees can be affected by a range of conditions that could affect their studies, including depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance misuse. Those who are supported properly, the GMC says, will provide better care for patients in the future.
Medical schools are told to create an environment where mental health is openly discussed “to try to reduce the stigma around it.” Preventive measures should also be put in place to promote good mental health and staff should be trained to recognise the early signs.
Where a school believes a student is not able to cope with a medical career, staff are advised to talk to the student and seek independent medical advice.
The guidance emphasises that fitness to practise proceedings should only be considered in more severe cases.
It states: “The most appropriate way of handling a student with a mental health condition is through supportive measures, which do not need to be put in place through fitness to practise processes.”
But where a student with mental health issues is also behaving unprofessionally, the GMC says “their behaviour may need to be addressed by fitness to practise processes in tandem with support.”
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “These are the doctors of tomorrow - it is crucial they are given the support they need at every stage of their training.
“We need to be open about this – doctors like every other group in society have mental health problems which can affect their lives. In the vast majority of cases, with the right support they can be dealt with successfully, but it needs a culture which encourages students to come forward and seek help and it needs that support to be there.”