A recent study carried out by the BMA has found that the health and wellbeing of junior doctors has worsened in recent years – which is why it’s so important that we prioritise our wellbeing and find better ways to navigate stress.
Although the report highlights how working conditions should be improved to support the wellbeing of NHS staff, the pressures associated with working in the medical profession should also be considered when it comes to students.
Learning how to navigate stress and burnout while you’re still studying will help you to create positive wellbeing habits that will stand you in good stead both now and in the future.
In this blog, Sakshi Roy talks us through some of the sources of burnout in medical students, the impact that stress has on mental and physical health, and strategies you can implement to help you manage and cope.
Challenges and stressors faced by medical students
As medical students, we face a unique set of challenges and stressors when it comes to our academic and professional journey.
The rigorous curriculum, long hours of studying, exposure to patients and expectations to perform at a high level can lead to stress and burnout.
An understanding of good stress management strategies can help you to stay healthy, remain positive and succeed in your chosen career.
Sources of stress and burnout for medical students
Medical students face a variety of stressors that can negatively impact their wellbeing and academic performance.
The following list sets out some of the most common sources of stress and burnout amongst medical students:
Academic demands - The demanding curriculum of medical school, including coursework, exams and rotations, can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety.
- Patient exposure - Medical students are exposed to patients and their illnesses, which can be emotionally and physically taxing. This exposure can also result in moral distress and burnout.
Sleep deprivation - Medical students often have to balance long hours of studying with clinical rotations, leading to sleep deprivation that can exacerbate stress and burnout.
Financial strain - The cost of medical school and the burden of student debt can also contribute to stress and burnout.
Professional expectations - Medical students face expectations to perform at a high level, both academically and clinically, which can lead to increased stress and pressure.
The impact of stress on your health
The impact of stress on medical students can be significant, both physically and mentally. Chronic stress can lead to a number of physical symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue and gastrointestinal issues. It can also have a negative impact on mental health, leading to anxiety, depression and burnout.
Managing and coping with stress during medical school
Given the impact of stress on medical students’ health and academic success, it’s essential to put strategies in place that can help you to cope.
Here are some strategies that are effective in managing stress:
Exercise and physical activity - Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing.
Mindfulness and meditation - Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and enhance overall wellbeing.
Time management - Medical students can benefit from effective time management techniques, such as prioritising tasks, setting achievable goals and taking regular breaks.
Social support - Medical students should cultivate supportive relationships with peers, family and mentors, as well as seeking out counselling or therapy if needed.
Self-care - It’s also a good idea to prioritise self-care activities, such as getting enough sleep, eating well and engaging in hobbies.
Stress and burnout cause significant challenges for medical students. Adopting effective stress management and coping strategies can help you maintain your wellbeing, reduce stress and burnout, and ultimately achieve success in your medical career.