Medical students as patients: a pilot study of their health care needs, practices, and concerns

Acad Med. 1996 Nov;71(11):1225-32. doi: 10.1097/00001888-199611000-00019.


Background: The personal health experiences of medical students may contribute in important but previously unacknowledged ways to their well-being and education. This pilot study surveyed medical students about their health care needs, practices, insurance status, and concerns about seeking care.

Method: A questionnaire was developed and distributed to 151 students at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 1993-94. Participant privacy was protected. Responses were compiled and analyzed using logistic regression models and odds ratios.

Results: A total of 112 students responded. Most reported health care needs and half routinely received care at their training institution. One-third had informally requested prescriptions or diagnostic tests from medical school faculty and housestaff; one-fourth used such informal consultation as their "usual" method of obtaining care. Eighteen students were uninsured. The students reported that they had not sought care for several reasons, and many had experienced difficulty in obtaining care. The students indicated concern about confidentiality and about the dual role as both student and patient at the training institution. They believed that their academic standing would be jeopardized if they developed certain health problems. When asked about hypothetical scenarios, a majority preferred to avoid the dual role of medical-student-patient. When asked about scenarios in which medical student peers exhibited suicidal depression or severe drug abuse, the students overwhelmingly preferred not to notify the medical school administration. Significant differences in responses were found with respect to gender and training level.

Conclusion: This pilot study examined the health care needs, practices (including the use of informal consultation), insurance status, and concerns of students at one medical school. The findings highlight the students' perceptions of illness and vulnerability during medical school training. Constructive implications for academic medicine are discussed regarding initiatives in the areas of policy, research, and the resources and structure of student health care services.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Students, Medical* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires