Assessing medical students’ knowledge in differentiating the diagnosis and treatment of unipolar vs bipolar depression

BACKGROUND: Depression is one of the leading causes of premature death and disability. However, both unipolar and bipolar depression are underdiagnosed and undertreated. The aims of this study were to assess medical students’ level of confidence in and knowledge of diagnosing and treating depression before and after completing a psychiatry clerkship, and their knowledge of differentiating unipolar vs bipolar depression.

METHODS: Third-year medical students at Augusta University (Georgia, USA) completed an online questionnaire to assess confidence in and knowledge of diagnosing and treating unipolar and bipolar depression.

RESULTS: Students who completed a psychiatry clerkship were statistically significantly more comfortable/confident with diagnosing (P < .0001) and treating (P < .0001) unipolar depression. Regarding bipolar depression, 73% of students who completed a psychiatry clerkship correctly diagnosed bipolar disorder, vs 59% of students who did not complete a psychiatry clerkship. This difference was not statistically significant (P = .181).

CONCLUSIONS: Students who completed a psychiatry clerkship were more confident in diagnosing and treating unipolar depression compared with those who did not complete a psychiatry clerkship. However, there was no statistically significant difference between students who had completed a psychiatry clerkship and those who had not completed a psychiatry clerkship in making the correct diagnosis of bipolar depression. Neither group had a very high rate of correct diagnosis.

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