Med students at high risk of burnout, suicide

New studies shed light on problems afflicting doctors-to-be

Studies have shown for decades that physicians have higher rates of suicide than the general population (for male doctors, it’s 40 per cent higher; for female doctors, it’s 130 per cent), the New York Times reports. Contributing factors are unclear, but research has traced the roots of it back to medical school, where students enter with mental health profiles similar to their peers, but eventually experience depression, burnout and other mental illnesses at higher rates. They have better access to health care, but are more likely to cope by drinking excessively or other dysfunctional mechanisms. Despite student wellness programs and confidential mental health services now offered, up to one-quarter of doctors in training still suffer from depression and more than half might be feeling burnout, numbers that are relatively unchanged. Two new studies shed some light on it. In one survey of more than 2,500 medical students across the country, researchers found that students who suffered from burnout were more likely to admit cheating on tests, lying about the status of a patient’s lab tests or physical exams, and feeling less altruistic about their role as a physician. They were more susceptible to self-centred behaviour. The second study showed that medical students who are depressed, or prone to depression, often believe they’re viewed as inadequate or incompetent. More research is needed, all agree.

New York Times

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.