Patterns of distress in US medical students

Med Teach. 2011;33(10):834-9. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2010.531158.


Background: How multiple forms of psychological distress coexist in individual medical students has not been formally studied.

Aim: To explore the prevalence of various forms of distress in medical students and their relationship to recent suicidal ideation or serious thoughts of dropping out of school.

Methods: All medical students at seven US schools were surveyed with standardized instruments to evaluate burnout, depression, stress, mental quality of life (QOL), physical QOL, and fatigue. Additional items explored recent suicidal ideation and serious thoughts of dropping out of medical school.

Results: Nearly all (1846/2246, 82%) of medical students had at least one form of distress with 1066 (58%) having ≥3 forms of distress. A dose-response relationship was found between the number of manifestations of distress and recent suicidal ideation or serious thoughts of dropping out. For example, students with 2, 4, or 6 forms of distress were 5, 15, and 24 fold, respectively, more likely to have suicidal ideation than students with no forms of distress assessed. All forms of distress were independently associated with suicidal ideation or serious thoughts of dropping out on multivariable analysis.

Conclusions: Most medical students experience ≥1 manifestation of distress with many experiencing multiple forms of distress simultaneously. The more forms of distress experienced the greater the risk for suicidal ideation and thoughts of dropping out of medical school.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Data Collection
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Fatigue
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Psychometrics
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools, Medical / trends*
  • Social Environment*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • United States