Only 38 percent of Americans believe that psychiatrists adhere to"
high" or "very high" ethical standards, according to
an annual Gallup poll conducted last December. The survey indicated that the
public places most of its trust in other types of health professionals.
Nurses were ranked the most ethical professionals, with 84 percent of those
polled rating nurses' ethical standards as "high" or "very
high," and pharmacists ranked second (73 percent).
When asked about the ethical standards of psychiatrists, the majority of
respondents rated psychiatrists' honesty and ethical standards as"
average" (42 percent) or "low" or "very
low" (12 percent).
The results are based on telephone interviews conducted from December 8-10,
2006, with 1,009 adults. Gallup staff implements random-digit dialing to reach
a representative sample of Americans.
Nurses have held the top position on the survey for all but one of the
eight years they have been included in the survey. According to Gallup trend
data, the one exception was 2001, when firefighters were included on the list
shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks and held the top
Medical doctors in general were ranked fourth on the list of the most
trustworthy professionals, just behind veterinarians; 69 percent of the public
rated physicians' ethical standards as "high" or "very
The public's trust in medical doctors has risen steadily since 1992,
according to trend data, when only 52 percent of the public gave the highest
ratings to physicians' ethical standards.
Psychiatrists were the only medical specialists listed in the poll
separately from "medical doctors." Psychiatrists were first
included as a distinct category in the 2003 survey and got the same ranking
then as in the current poll.
According to Deborah Cross, M.D., chair of APA's Committee on Public
Affairs, the poll is designed in such a way that it reinforce negative
stereotypes and misconceptions that the public may hold about
"By asking about psychiatrists separately [from other medical
doctors], the poll implies that psychiatrists are not medical doctors,"
she pointed out.
Regarding the relatively low endorsement of psychiatrists' ethical
standards by the public, Cross noted that the poll findings should reinforce
one of APA's priorities: "to educate the public about who we are and
what it is that we do" as psychiatrists.
"It is important that the public understand that psychiatrists are
medical doctors who are charged with the treatment of medical illnesses and
who utilize treatments that work," she added.
Gallup said that the margin of sampling error for the survey results at a
95 percent confidence interval is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The results of the 2006 Honesty and Ethics in Professions Poll can
be accessed at<www.galluppoll.com>
for a fee. ▪