Sunday 18 August 2019

Medical students with high burnout levels at five times higher risk of depression, new research shows

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Education Editor

MEDICAL students with high levels of burnout have five times higher risk of depression, according to new research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

Burnout has previously been identified as a common problem among medical students, but one of the key findings of this study is how it increases significantly as they progress from early years of learning at college to their hospital training.

About 25pc of students showed high levels of burnout before starting hospital training, but it rose to 35pc in their clinical years as they got closer to graduation and workload increased ahead of final exams.

And the risk of depression was 66pc in students with high levels of burnout, five times higher than 13pc in those with low levels, according to the study published in the current edition of the British Medical Journal, BMJ Open.

Among its recommendation is urgent recognition of the need to rethink the psychological pressures of health professions education.

Some 55pc of participants said they would use college welfare services if they had challenges with their mental health, and 33pc said they would seek help elsewhere.

But 11pc said they would not seek help, and even though some students in that cohort had the highest burnout scores.

The report notes previous research that medical students in particular have a tendency to avoid discussing mental health for fear of the associated stigma and the concern that the disclosure will affect their future careers.

Dr Alice McGarvey, one of the authors of the study and RCSI Senior Lecturer in Anatomy said it was "worrisome" that the findings of those who were most at risk were less likely to seek help.

The study was undertaken on the initiative of Dr Orla Fitzpatrick, a student in the college at the time, and who is currently completing her internship.

Dr Fitzpatrick, who is its lead author, said their research method allowed them to link levels of burnout directly to risk of depression.

She said the high levels of burnout and depression pointed to an urgent need to rethink the psychological pressures of health professions education and, according to study, RCSI has instituted changes on specific areas of the learning experience that students reported as stressful.

In its findings the report states that here are no grounds for interventions targeting only at those at high risk, but also look at encouraging students to aces support services when needed.

The research team gathered data from almost 300 medical students in both preclinical and clinical years at RCSI.

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