Purpose: Burnout, a marker of professional distress prevalent among residents and physicians, has been speculated to originate in medical school. Little is known about burnout in medical students. The authors sought to identify the prevalence of burnout, variation of its prevalence during medical school, and the impact of personal life events on burnout and other types of student distress.
Method: All medical students (n = 1,098) attending the three medical schools in Minnesota were surveyed in spring 2004 using validated instruments to assess burnout, quality of life, depression, and alcohol use. Students were also asked about the prevalence of positive and negative personal life events in the previous 12 months.
Results: A total of 545 medical students (response rate 50%) completed the survey. Burnout was present in 239 (45%) of medical students. While the frequency of a positive depression screen and at-risk alcohol use decreased among more senior students, the frequency of burnout increased (all p < .03). The number of negative personal life events in the last 12 months also correlated with the risk of burnout (p = .0160). Personal life events demonstrated a stronger relationship to burnout than did year in training on multivariate analysis.
Conclusions: Burnout appears common among U.S. medical students and may increase by year of schooling. Despite the notion that burnout is primarily linked to work-related stress, personal life events also demonstrated a strong relationship to professional burnout. The authors' findings suggest both personal and curricular factors are related to burnout among medical students. Efforts to decrease burnout must address both of these elements.