Medical student burnout: interdisciplinary exploration and analysis

J Med Humanit. 2009 Dec;30(4):253-69. doi: 10.1007/s10912-009-9093-5.


Burnout--a stress-related syndrome characterized by exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of accomplishment--is a common phenomenon among medical students with significant potential consequences for student health, professionalism, and patient care. This essay proposes that the epidemic of medical student burnout can be attributed to a technocratic paradigm that fails to value medical students as persons with human needs and limitations. After briefly reviewing the literature on medical student burnout, the author uses two theories to elucidate potential causes: unsatisfactory aspects of the learning environment and a feeling one's efforts are meaningless or irrelevant. Cultural factors also facilitate burnout in medical students immersed in a clinical environment that cultivates excessive detachment from patient and self, impairing self-care, damaging a sense of self, and impeding the development of a mature, well-integrated professional identity. The ethical implications of medical student burnout are also addressed. Finally, this paper suggests possible preventive and remediative strategies such as optimizing the learning environment as well as narrative approaches that promise enhancement of both individual and institutional well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional* / etiology
  • Education, Medical
  • Humanities
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Narration
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Students, Medical / psychology*