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Are Today's Medical Students Headed for Burnout or Are They Already There?

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The demands of medical school — long hours, peer activities and a limited personal life — put students at risk of burnout long before they get into a residency and practice as a physician. Medical students are more likely to suffer from burnout during training than college graduates in non-medicine-related programs, according to one study. Fifty percent of medical students experience burnout, according to another. As a result, physicians-to-be are looking for ways to build resiliency — skills that will help them overcome the physical and psychological effects of burnout.

Medical School Burnout

 
Burnout — a state of chronic stress that contributes to emotional and physical exhaustion and detachment, according to one leading psychologist — is on the rise. Medical students often experience stress and anxiety during training. Long hours — some trainees study 30 to 40 hours a week — and ever-looming deadlines contribute to the problem. The growing costs of medical school can also have an effect.
 
The pressures of medical school have a detrimental impact on a medical student's mental health, too. Research shows that people who attend medical school are more prone to alcohol abuse than people who don't. For some students, the demands of medical training are so great, dropping out of school seems like a better option.
Burnout isn't a new concept. However, in recent years, more students are experiencing the pressures of becoming a full-time physician. A lack of clinical continuity, poor levels of feedback from senior doctors and hostile attitudes during training are other factors that result in burnout.
 

Overcoming Burnout

 
More medical students are learning about resilience to overcome burnout. This coping mechanism helps students face the challenges associated with labor-intensive medical programs and provides them with the skills they need to deal with stressful situations. Resilience can have a positive effect on people attending medical school, who have a higher prevalence of psychological distress than their peers.
 
Students who undergo resilience training are often happier and more productive in a working environment. They are more likely to bounce back from stressful experiences, too. "Resilience is your ability to adapt well and recover quickly after stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy," says the Mayo Clinic. "If you have a resilient disposition, you are better able to maintain poise and a healthy level of physical and psychological wellness in the face of life's challenges."
 
Medical students suggest other methods for overcoming burnout, too. These include healthy eating, meditation, a good night's sleep, exercise and having a proper support system in place.
 

How to Measure Burnout and Resilience

 
Measuring burnout in medical students is often fraught with difficulties. Tools like the Well-Being Index, however, make it easier to identify the signs associated with stress and take action. This anonymous, web-based platform can also be used for resilience training: medical school course leaders can spot stress triggers among the student population and act accordingly. The tool is easy to use and provides medical professionals with unparalleled insights into how their students think and behave.
 
Medical school burnout is becoming more prevalent. Resilience training, however, provides students with the tools they need to navigate through stressful times. If you want to spot the symptoms of burnout before they happen and improve resilience and medical student well-being, demo the Well-Being Index here.
 

 

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Support to Make the Decision Easy

Shine a light on burnout and increase awareness at your institution. Use the Executive Leadership Summary to share with your colleagues or leadership teams.