Aims and method We used an online questionnaire to investigate medical students' perceptions of the apparent hierarchy between specialties, whether they have witnessed disparaging comments ('badmouthing' or 'bashing') against other specialists and whether this has had an effect on their career choice. Results In total, 960 students from 13 medical schools completed the questionnaire; they ranked medical specialties according to the level of badmouthing and answered questions on their experience of specialty bashing. Psychiatry and general practice attracted the greatest number of negative comments, which were made by academic staff, doctors and students. Twenty-seven per cent of students had changed their career choice as a direct result of bashing and a further 25.5% stated they were more likely to change their specialty choice. Although 80.5% of students condemned badmouthing as unprofessional, 71.5% believed that it is a routine part of practising medicine. Clinical implications Bashing of psychiatry represents another form of stigmatisation that needs to be challenged in medical schools. It not only has an impact on recruitment into the specialty, but also has the wider effect of stigmatising people with mental health disorders.