Finding the Why, Changing the How: Improving the Mental Health of Medical Students, Residents, and Physicians

Acad Med. 2016 Sep;91(9):1194-6. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001226.


The poor mental health of residents, characterized by high rates of burnout, depression, and suicidal ideation, is a growing concern in graduate medical education. Research is needed to gain a deeper understanding of the sources of distress as well as the sources of sustenance in residency training. The study by Mata and colleagues contributes significantly to this understanding. In addition to this line of research, however, studies are needed that assess the impact of interventions to help residents deal more effectively with the stress of training and find meaning in their work. Given the stresses of residency training, this approach may not make a dramatic difference in mental health outcomes. Efforts directed at changing the educational and clinical environments are also needed to reduce unnecessary stressors and create more positive settings for learning and clinical care. Since 2011, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has been pursuing a multipronged strategy to address these issues in the preclinical years. These efforts have led to dramatic decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms in students. An essential component of these interventions is the ongoing measurement of mental health outcomes across all four years of the curriculum. Leaders of residency programs, medical schools, and hospitals need to have the courage to measure these kinds of outcomes to spur change and track the efficacy of programs.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / organization & administration*
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Missouri
  • Organizational Culture
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Workload / psychology*