A prospective analysis of stress and academic performance in the first two years of medical school

Med Educ. 1999 Apr;33(4):243-50. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2923.1999.00294.x.


Aim: This study provides prospective, longitudinal data on the relationship between stress-related measures and academic performance during the first two years of medical school.

Methods: First year medical students (n = 121) were surveyed prior to beginning classes (wave 1), and again 8 months later (wave 2). Personality variables predisposing to distress (optimism and trait anxiety), stress response (depression and state anxiety), and stress management strategies were assessed at wave 1 and wave 2. Pre-medical academic scores, and grades at the end of five assessment periods over the course of the first 2 years of medical school were also obtained.

Results and conclusions: As expected, pre-medical-school academic performance strongly predicted performance in medical school. Academic performance before and during medical school was negatively related to reported stress levels. On bivariate correlations, there were numerous significant relationships between stress reported at waves 1 and 2, and medical school academic performance assessed after these measures. In addition there were modest negative correlations between self-reported coping strategies of 'humour' and 'wishful thinking', and consequent academic performance. However, the predictive value of stress and its management on prospective academic performance was much decreased once pre-medical-school performance was statistically controlled.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*