The problems program directors inherit: medical student distress at the time of graduation

Med Teach. 2011;33(9):756-8. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2011.577468.


Background: Distress is prevalent among residents and often attributed to rigors of training.

Aims: To explore the prevalence of burnout and depression and measured mental quality of life (QOL) among graduating medical students shortly before they began residency.

Method: Pooled analysis of data from 1428 fourth year medical students who responded to 1 of 3 multi-institutional studies. Students completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory, PRIME MD, and SF-8 to measure burnout, depression, and low mental QOL (defined as mean mental SF-8 scores ½ a standard deviation below the population norm) and answered demographic items.

Results: Shortly before beginning residency, 49% of responding medical students had burnout, 38% endorsed depressive symptoms, and 34% had low mental QOL. While no differences in the prevalence of distress was observed by residency specialty area, there were subtle differences in the manifestation of burnout by specialty. Medical students entering surgical fields had lower mean emotional scores, students entering primary care fields had lower mean depersonalization scores, and students entering non-primary care/non-surgical fields reported the lowest mean personal accomplishment scores (all p ≤ 0.03).

Conclusion: Our results indicate a high prevalence of distress among graduating medical students across all specialty disciplines before they even begin residency training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Male
  • Quality of Life
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology