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The side effects of medical student burnout can quickly have an impact on the school and community at large. When students are experiencing high levels of cynicism and physical exhaustion, the learning environment suffers. If students are not receiving help with combating distress, it’s likely the negative attitudes will rub off on first-year med students.
Similar to a cynical work environment, burnout can breed rapidly within a school in which students live, go to class, and study together. If students are pushed too far, they will eventually look to a different career path. Decreases in graduation and attendance rates are not attractive to potential medical students, making it even harder for the institution and community to yield successful physicians.
Distress and burnout in medical students can manifest in their personal lives in numerous ways. For instance, medical students are more likely to succumb to substance abuse than people of similar demographics who are not in medical school. Specifically, one study reported that nearly 33 percent of medical students claimed the symptoms of alcohol abuse; just 16 percent of their non-med peers face the same problem.
Medical student burnout can lead to other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and poor concentration. Consuming more alcohol, developing a cynical outlook on life, and withdrawing socially are all ways medical students respond to distress in their personal lives. Students may even act out disruptively and affect both their classmates and personal relationships. If burnout impacts a medical student’s personal life enough, they can turn to a new career path completely.
Extreme tiredness is one of the most apparent symptoms of burnout in medical students. Intense study and class schedules can easily result in burnout-related exhaustion and other dimensions of distress such as severe fatigue. It’s crucial for students to get the right amount of sleep to be able to perform everyday tasks and retain information.
If a once passionate and positive medical student is now seeming desensitized and cynical, he or she could be experiencing burnout. This is detrimental to the student’s personal relationships and future career if left unaddressed.
A medical student could be fighting burnout if they begin to feel completely incompetent or useless in school and personal life. A hopeless or cynical attitude can be a sign that a student is feeling they are not smart or good enough to take on their current responsibilities.
Many times, medical students take on such a heavy workload that they become burned out and feel no one else understands what they’re experiencing. It is important to promote community within the school, as to prevent students from feeling alone in their struggles.
Medical students are being told to “take care of themselves,” but have no incentives to reach out for help. Rachel Stones, a third-year student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, explains, “Students are struggling because there’s no incentive to take care of themselves. And even when we do have a supportive administration saying ‘take care of yourself,’ the larger culture of medicine is focused on sucking up and pushing through.”
Educating faculty on the dimensions of distress such as burnout in medical students can help to identify and address the problem in its early stages. If faculty members understand the symptoms of distress and how to approach a student who seems to be experiencing them, students may be more apt to talk about their struggles.
Offering an accurate and anonymous self-assessment to medical students can help to improve your school’s wellness initiatives. The Medical Student Well-Being Index is a validated nine-question assessment that offers participants custom resources based on their areas of need. Aggregated reports are then available to administrators to see how student well-being progresses over time.
Taking moments in between study sessions and exams to focus on the present can help medical students fight anxiety. Mindfulness sessions help to realign thoughts and take very little time.
Mindfulness and deep breathing exercises can go hand-in-hand. There are several meditation apps for mobile phones that remind the user to take a minute and focus on the breath. This can help students to relax before exams or when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Medical students can feel so much pressure to continually study that they make little time to socialize or exercise. Having an integrated schedule of school, friends, family, and personal time can make all the difference.
Positive relationships are a vital part of managing the stress that students encounter in medical school. Support groups can reduce feelings of isolation, remove the stigma associated with distress, and greatly improve the well-being of students.
Students oftentimes do not have the time or the budget to prepare nutritious meals at home. Balanced meals should be available to students through meal plans or on-campus restaurants. Medical students fueling up on nutritious options will ultimately be happier, healthier, and more productive.
Administrations who are serious about unearthing and treating distress in medical students need to have an accurate method of assessment for each individual.
The institution should also find value in students routinely reassessing to ensure wellness initiatives are effective. The Medical Student Well-Being Index offers that, and more. The future of healthcare lies in the minds of our medical students.