The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the academic and psychological stability of medical students, leading to high rates of burnout.
Researchers surveyed 613 medical students representing all years of a medical program during the last week of the Spring semester of 2021.
Based on the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey (MBI- SS), more than half (54%) of the students had symptoms of burnout.
Eighty percent of students scored high on emotional exhaustion, 57% scored high on cynicism, and 36% scored low on academic effectiveness.
Compared with male medical students, female medical students were more apt to exhibit signs of burnout (60% vs 44%), emotional exhaustion (80% vs 73%), and cynicism (62% vs 49%).
After adjusting for associated factors, female medical students were significantly more likely to suffer from burnout than male students (odds ratio [OR], 1.90; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.34 to 2.70; P < .001).
Smoking was also linked to higher likelihood of burnout among medical students (OR, 2.12; 95% CI, 1.18 to 3.81; P < .05). The death of a family member from COVID-19 also put medical students at heightened risk for burnout (OR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.08 to 2.36; P < .05).
The survey results were presented at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2022 Annual Meeting.
The findings point to the need to study burnout prevalence in universities and develop strategies to promote the mental health of future physicians, presenter Sofia Jezzini-Martínez, fourth-year medical student, Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico, wrote in her conference abstract.
In related research presented at the APA meeting, researchers surveyed second-, third-, and fourth-year medical students from California during the pandemic.
Roughly 80% endorsed symptoms of anxiety and 68% endorsed depressive symptoms, of whom about 18% also reported having thoughts of suicide.
Yet only about half of the medical students endorsing anxiety or depressive symptoms sought help from a mental health professional, and 20% endorsed using substances to cope with stress.
“Given that the pandemic is ongoing, we hope to draw attention to mental health needs of medical students and influence medical schools to direct appropriate and timely resources to this group,” presenter Sarthak Angal, MD, psychiatry resident, Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, California, wrote in his conference abstract.
Weighing in on medical student burnout, Ihuoma Njoku, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, noted that, “particularly for women in multiple fields, including medicine, there’s a lot of burden placed on them.”
“Women are pulled in a lot of different directions and have increased demands, which may help explain their higher rate of burnout,” Njoku commented.
She noted that these surveys were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, “a period when students’ education experience was a lot different than what they expected and maybe what they wanted.”
Njoku noted that the challenges of the pandemic are particularly hard on fourth-year medical students.
“A big part of fourth year is applying to residency and many were doing virtual interviews for residency. That makes it hard to really get an appreciation of the place you will spend the next three to eight years of your life,” she told Medscape Medical News.
American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2022 Annual Meeting. Poster P1-069, presented May 21, 2022; Poster P3-086, presented May 22, 2022.