Purpose: Many medical students experience distress during medical school. If matriculating medical students (MMSs) begin training with similar or better mental health than age-similar controls, this would support existing concerns about the negative impact of training on student well-being. The authors compared mental health indicators of MMSs versus those of a probability-based sample of the general U.S. population.
Method: In 2012 all MMSs at six U.S. medical schools were invited to participate in a survey during orientation. The research team surveyed a probability-based sample of U.S. individuals using the same questions in 2011. Individuals from the population sample who completed a four-year college degree and matched within the appropriate age strata (< 30, 31-35, 36-40, > 40) were compared with MMSs. Surveys included demographics and validated instruments to measure burnout; depression symptoms; and mental, emotional, physical, and overall of quality of life (QOL).
Results: Demographic characteristics of the 582/938 (62%) responding MMSs were similar to U.S. MMSs. Relative to 546 age-similar college graduates, MMSs had lower rates of burnout (27.3% versus 37.3%, P < .001) and depression symptoms (26.2% versus 42.4%, P < .0001) and higher scores across the four QOL domains assessed relative to controls (all P < .0001). These findings persisted on multivariate analysis after adjusting for age, sex, relationship status, and race/ethnicity.
Conclusions: These findings, along with high rates of distress reported in medical students and residents, support concerns that the training process and environment contribute to the deterioration of mental health in developing physicians.