Purpose: To examine changes in health habits (sleep, alcohol, and exercise) and the effects of an educational intervention promoting self-care on the emotional and academic adjustment of first-year medical students.
Method: Fifty-four medical students completed questionnaires that assessed various health habits, alcohol use, depression severity, and areas of life satisfaction at the beginning of the semester, at mid-term, and at finals. Approximately half of the students received written feedback or participated in an educational discussion group at mid-term.
Results: The students demonstrated significant changes in health habits, with increases in alcohol consumption and decreases in exercise and socialization. The changes in health habits were predictive of both emotional and academic adjustment, with students who decreased in positive health habits, particularly socialization, being more depressed at finals. The feedback and educational interventions influenced some sleep and exercise behaviors, but the groups did not differ in overall emotional or academic adjustment.
Conclusions: First-year medical students show significant changes in health habits as they adjust to medical school. An educational intervention demonstrated promising effects in changing these patterns, but self-care needs to be further elaborated to address the specific challenges associated with acute adjustment as well as with long-term stressors.