Variation of mood and empathy during internship

JAMA. 2002 Jun 19;287(23):3143-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.23.3143.


Context: Internship is a time of great transition, during which mood disturbances are common. However, variations in mood and empathy levels throughout the internship year have not been investigated.

Objective: To examine mood patterns and changes in empathy among internal medicine residents over the course of the internship year.

Design: Cohort study of interns involving completion of survey instruments at 4 points: time 1 (June 2000; Profile of Mood States [POMS] and Interpersonal Reactivity Index [IRI]), times 2 and 3 (November 2000 and February 2001; POMS), and time 4 (June 2001; POMS and IRI).

Setting: Internal medicine residency program at a university-based medical center.

Participants: Sixty-one interns.

Main outcome measures: Baseline scores of mood states and empathy; trends in mood states and empathy over the internship year.

Results: Response rates for time 1 were 98%; for time 2, 72%; for time 3, 79%; and for time 4, 79%. Results of the POMS revealed that physicians starting their internship exhibit less tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion and have more vigor than general adult and college student populations (P<.001 for all). Results of the IRI showed better baseline scores for perspective taking (P<.001) and empathic concern (P =.007) and lower scores for personal distress (P<.001) among interns compared with norms. Five months into internship, however, POMS scores revealed significant increases in the depression-dejection (P<.001), anger-hostility (P<.001), and fatigue-inertia (P<.001) scales, as well as an increase in IRI personal distress level (P<.001). These increases corresponded with decreases in the POMS vigor-activity scores (P<.001) and IRI empathic concern measures (P =.005). Changes persisted throughout the internship period.

Conclusions: We found that, in this sample, enthusiasm at the beginning of internship soon gave way to depression, anger, and fatigue. Future research should be aimed at determining whether these changes persist beyond internship.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Time Factors