Perceived Medical School stress of undergraduate medical students predicts academic performance: an observational study

BMC Med Educ. 2017 Dec 16;17(1):256. doi: 10.1186/s12909-017-1091-0.


Background: Medical students are exposed to high amounts of stress. Stress and poor academic performance can become part of a vicious circle. In order to counteract this circularity, it seems important to better understand the relationship between stress and performance during medical education. The most widespread stress questionnaire designed for use in Medical School is the "Perceived Medical School Stress Instrument" (PMSS). It addresses a wide range of stressors, including workload, competition, social isolation and financial worries. Our aim was to examine the relation between the perceived Medical School stress of undergraduate medical students and academic performance.

Methods: We measured Medical School stress using the PMSS at two different time points (at the end of freshman year and at the end of sophomore year) and matched stress scores together with age and gender to the first medical examination (M1) grade of the students (n = 456).

Results: PMSS scores from 2 and 14 months before M1 proved to be significant predictors for medical students' M1 grade. Age and gender also predict academic performance, making older female students with high stress scores a potential risk group for entering the vicious circle of stress and poor academic performance.

Conclusions: PMSS sum scores 2 and 14 months before the M1 exam seem to have an independent predictive validity for medical students' M1 grade. More research is needed to identify potential confounders.

Keywords: Assessment; Education; Educational; Medical; Medical; Stress; Psychological; Questionnaires and surveys; Undergraduate; Students.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance / psychology*
  • Academic Performance / standards
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate* / standards
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Observation
  • Perception
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychometrics
  • Schools, Medical*
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workload / psychology*
  • Young Adult