Medicine and dentistry are stressful professions. Dental and medical students suffer high levels of stress and may experience adverse psychological symptoms and use dysfunctional coping mechanisms.
Aim: To investigate levels and sources of stress, anger, anxiety and sadness, and associated coping mechanisms, in fourth-year dental and medical students.
Methods: A link to an online questionnaire was emailed to all fourth-year dental and medical students at the University of Otago, in Dunedin (New Zealand).
Results: The response rate was 60.2% (N = 100). The majority of students (58.6%) reported frequently feeling stressed. More dental than medical students reported always feeling stressed, but a greater proportion of medical students reported not coping well with stress, suffering abnormal anxiety, anger and sadness, and having these feelings for prolonged periods. Destructive coping mechanisms were more common among dental students, while positive coping mechanisms were also used by both groups. Few students (13.5%) reported using professional counselling services during their undergraduate years.
Conclusions: Mental stability is indispensable for the compassionate, professional and competent delivery of care by health professionals. The high prevalence of detrimental emotions and adverse mental states reported by students before they enter the health workforce is alarming and needs to be addressed.