Adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism in medical students: a longitudinal investigation

Med Educ. 2001 Nov;35(11):1034-42. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2923.2001.01044.x.


Objectives: The personality of medical students may have an important impact on both their academic performance and emotional adjustment during medical school. There has been little systematic study of the impact of perfectionism on medical students. The present study sought to compare the perfectionism profile of medical students with that of a general arts student group and to examine the relationship among perfectionism, distress symptoms and academic expectations and satisfaction.

Design: Medical students (n=96) and arts students (n=289) completed a baseline assessment including two multidimensional perfectionism scales. The medical students also completed measures of distress symptoms, personality (neuroticism, conscientiousness) and questions about their perceptions of their academic performance. Of the medical students, 58 completed a second set of questionnaires 6 months later (time 2).

Subjects: First-, second- and third year medical students and first-year arts students.

Results: In comparison with arts students, the perfectionism profile of medical students showed higher personal standards, lower doubts about actions and lower maladaptive perfectionism scores. In the medical students adaptive perfectionism (achievement striving) was significantly correlated with baseline academic performance expectations and conscientiousness and was predictive of dissatisfaction with academic performance at time 2. Maladaptive perfectionism (excessive evaluative concerns) was significantly correlated with baseline distress symptoms and neuroticism and was predictive of symptoms of depression and hopelessness at time 2.

Conclusions: Perfectionism in medical students differs systematically from perfectionism in general arts students. Distinguishing adaptive and maladaptive aspects of perfectionism is important in understanding the cross-sectional and longitudinal implications of perfectionism for medical students.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Art*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Manitoba
  • Personality*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires