The objectives of this longitudinal study were to compare salivary cortisol release patterns in medical residents and their self-perceived anxiety levels between a regular working day and a day when on call in the emergency department (ED-duty day) and to determine any differences in cortisol release pattern as a function of years of residency or sex. The study included 35 residents (physicians-in-training) of the Granada University Hospital, Granada, Spain. Acute stress was measured on a regular working day and an ED-duty day, evaluating anxiety-state with the Spanish version of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Physiological stress assessment was based on salivary cortisol levels. Cortisol release concentrations were higher on an ED-duty day than on a regular working day, with a significantly increased area under the curve (AUC) (p < 0.006). This difference slightly attenuated with longer residency experience. No gender difference in anxiety levels was observed (p < 0.001). According to these findings, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity and anxiety levels of medical residents are higher on an ED-duty day than on a regular working day.
Keywords: Emergency Department-duty day; acute stress; anxiety; cortisol; medical resident.