CONTEXT: In university programmes preparing students to work with patients with mental illness, clerkship is proposed as a component that may contribute to the battle against stigma, through bringing students into contact with the patients' reality. Yet, the precise contribution of clerkship remains unclear, perhaps because of the variety of university programmes, clerkship characteristics or types of stigma explored. This is the first systematic meta-analysis of available evidence determining the precise effect size of the influence of clerkship on stigma and the potential moderators.
METHODS: We carried out a systematic literature review in Eric, PsycINFO, Pubmed, Scopus, UMI and Proquest dissertations, aiming to identify all the studies exploring health care students' stigma of mental illness (measured as overall stigma or as attitudes, affect and behavioural intentions) before and after a clerkship from 2000 to 2017. Twenty-two studies were included in the meta-analysis, providing data from 22 independent samples. The total sample consisted of 3161 students. The effects of programme (medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, and their combination), study design (paired-unpaired samples), publication year, sex, age and clerkship context, and inclusion of theoretical training and duration, were examined as potential moderators.
RESULTS: Our analyses yielded a highly significant medium effect size for overall stigma (Hedge's g = 0.35; p < 0.001; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.20, 0.42), attitudes (Hedge's g = 0.308; p = 0.003; 95% CI, 0.10, 0.51) and behavioural intentions (Hedge's g = 0.247; p < 0.001; 95% CI, 0.17, 0.33), indicating a considerable change, whereas there was no significant change in the students' affect. Moderator analyses provided evidence for the distinct nature of each stigma outcome, as they were influenced by different clerkship and student characteristics such as clerkship context, theoretical training, age and sex.
CONCLUSIONS: The robust effect of clerkship on students' stigma of mental illness established by the present meta-analysis highlights its role as a crucial curriculum component for experiential learning and as a necessary agent for the battle against stigma.