Personality traits and types predict medical school stress: a six-year longitudinal and nationwide study

Med Educ. 2007 Aug;41(8):781-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2007.02802.x.


Objectives: Personality types (combinations of traits) that take into account the interplay between traits give a more detailed picture of an individual's character than do single traits. This study examines whether both personality types and traits predict stress during medical school training.

Methods: We surveyed Norwegian medical students (n = 421) 1 month after they began medical school (T1), at the mid-point of undergraduate Year 3 (T2), and at the end of undergraduate Year 6 (T3). A total of 236 medical students (56%) responded at all time-points. They were categorised according to Torgersen's personality typology by their combination of high and low scores on the 'Big Three' personality traits of extroversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness. We studied the effects of both personality types (spectator, insecure, sceptic, brooder, hedonist, impulsive, entrepreneur and complicated) and traits on stress during medical school.

Results: There was a higher level of stress among female students. The traits of neuroticism (P = 0.002) and conscientiousness (P = 0.03) were independent predictors of stress, whereas female gender was absorbed by neuroticism in the multivariate model. When controlled for age and gender, 'brooders' (low extroversion, high neuroticism, high conscientiousness) were at risk of experiencing more stress (P = 0.02), whereas 'hedonists' (high extroversion, low neuroticism, low conscientiousness) were more protected against stress (P = 0.001).

Conclusions: This is the first study to show that a specific combination of personality traits can predict medical school stress. The combination of high neuroticism and high conscientiousness is considered to be particularly high risk.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Norway
  • Perception
  • Personality*
  • Schools, Medical*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*