Perceptions of academic vulnerability associated with personal illness: a study of 1,027 students at nine medical schools. Collaborative Research Group on Medical Student Health

Compr Psychiatry. 2001 Jan-Feb;42(1):1-15. doi: 10.1053/comp.2001.19747.


About one quarter of the more than 69,000 medical students in this country suffer symptoms of mental illness, including 7% to 18% with substance use disorders. Subjective distress and physical health needs of medical students are also common and have been linked to training stresses. This first large-scale study of medical student health care examined students' physical and mental health concerns and their perceptions of academic vulnerability associated with personal illness. A 7-page, confidential written survey was given to 1,964 students at nine US medical schools in 1996 and 1997. A total of 1,027 students participated (52% response rate). Nearly all (90%) reported needing care for various health concerns, including 47% having at least one mental health or substance-related health issue. A majority of students expressed a preference for health care outside their training institution, largely due to confidentiality concerns, and 90% preferred health insurance allowing off-site care. Students expressed varying levels of concern about academic jeopardy in association with personal illness, with physical health problems such as arthritis causing the least concern and alcohol and drug abuse triggering the most concern. Consistent differences were detected in these views based on respondent's gender, training level, and institution. Most medical students perceive the need for personal health care. Nevertheless, fear of academic reprisal may prevent medical students from seeking necessary care for their health problems during training. This phenomenon may be linked in important but poorly recognized ways to emerging illness and to impairment among medical students and physicians. Women, minority, and clinical students appear more sensitive to the connection between health and academic vulnerability. Constructive implications for medical school curricula, policies, and health care services are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Confidentiality
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Needs Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Sick Role*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • United States / epidemiology