The prevalence and correlations of medical student burnout in the pre-clinical years: a cross-sectional study

Psychol Health Med. 2012;17(2):188-95. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2011.597770. Epub 2011 Jul 25.


Burnout is a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and impaired personal accomplishment induced by repeated workplace stressors. Current research suggests that physician burnout may have its origins in medical school. The consequences of medical student burnout include both personal and professional distress, loss of empathy, and poor health. We hypothesized that burnout occurs prior to the initiation of the clinical years of medical education. This was a cross-sectional survey administered to third-year medical students at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM) in New York, New York (a traditional-style medical school with a marked division between pre-clinical and clinical training occurring at the beginning of the third year). Survey included an instrument used to measure job burnout, a sleep deprivation screen, and questions related to demographic information, current rotation, psychiatric history, time spent working/studying, participation in extracurricular activities, social support network, autonomy and isolation. Of the 86 medical students who participated, 71% met criteria for burnout. Burnt out students were significantly more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation (p = 0.0359). They were also more likely to disagree with the following statements: "I have control over my daily schedule" (p = 0.0286) and "I am confident that I will have the knowledge and skills necessary to become an intern when I graduate" (p = 0.0263). Our findings show that burnout is present at the beginning of the third year of medical school, prior to the initiation of the clinical years of medical training. Medical student burnout is quite common, and early efforts should be made to empower medical students to both build the knowledge and skills necessary to become capable physicians, as well as withstand the emotional, mental, and physical challenges inherent to medical school.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Deprivation / epidemiology
  • Social Isolation
  • Social Support
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Management