Background: Mental distress among medical students is often reported. Burnout has not been studied frequently and studies using interviewer-rated diagnoses as outcomes are rarely employed. The objective of this prospective study of medical students was to examine clinically significant psychiatric morbidity and burnout at 3rd year of medical school, considering personality and study conditions measured at 1st year.
Methods: Questionnaires were sent to 127 first year medical students who were then followed-up at 3rd year of medical school. Eighty-one of 3rd year respondents participated in a diagnostic interview. Personality (HP5-i) and Performance-based self-esteem (PBSE-scale) were assessed at first year, Study conditions (HESI), Burnout (OLBI), Depression (MDI) at 1st and 3rd years. Diagnostic interviews (MINI) were used at 3rd year to assess psychiatric morbidity. High and low burnout at 3rd year was defined by cluster analysis. Logistic regressions were used to identify predictors of high burnout and psychiatric morbidity, controlling for gender.
Results: 98 (77%) responded on both occasions, 80 (63%) of these were interviewed. High burnout was predicted by Impulsivity trait, Depressive symptoms at 1st year and Financial concerns at 1st year. When controlling for 3rd year study conditions, Impulsivity and concurrent Workload remained. Of the interviewed sample 21 (27%) had a psychiatric diagnosis, 6 of whom had sought help. Unadjusted analyses showed that psychiatric morbidity was predicted by high Performance-based self-esteem, Disengagement and Depression at 1st year, only the later remained significant in the adjusted analysis.
Conclusion: Psychiatric morbidity is common in medical students but few seek help. Burnout has individual as well as environmental explanations and to avoid it, organisational as well as individual interventions may be needed. Early signs of depressive symptoms in medical students may be important to address. Students should be encouraged to seek help and adequate facilities should be available.