Medical Students

Medical students are the future of our profession, and will be the doctors who look after us when we are in need of care.

We would like them to become skilled, knowledgeable, caring and sensitive doctors, for ourselves, for patients and for our profession. But how are we are treating them as medical students? How is medical training affecting our students?

The Australian Beyond Blue study looking at wellbeing amongst medical students states that students self-reported high rates of minor psychological disorders (47% women, 36% men); figures higher than those reported by qualified doctors. 1 in 4 students scored in the high or very high psychological distress bracket. These figures were higher for female than male students, higher for rural students, for students over 25 and indigenous students. 1 in 5 students reported having suicidal thoughts over the previous 12 months. 1 in 2 students reported emotional exhaustion and 1 in 4 reported cynicism. These figures from Australia, shocking as they are, reflect those reported across several first world countries.

At entry into medical school, students do not score differently on psychological testing to other students or the general public, despite the hard work and sacrifices they make to gain entry, so what is happening in medical school and more importantly what can we do about it?

There are many factors contributing to medical student stress, but a significant part of the problem is medical training itself. Love and care are as integral to medical training as they are to Medicine itself, but our current systems do not honour this truth, nor the people they are training. The way most medical schools are currently set up, the entry system is fiercely competitive, there are copious tests, exams and demands on the students throughout their training, and this is intensified when it comes to post-graduate specialty training. It does not need to be this way. We could remove much of the grading system and competition with a simple pass/fail grade and we could be much more aware of the need to address the whole person in medical training, so that our students are better equipped to deal with what will come their way.

Medical training is time consuming and costly, and our young doctors are a precious commodity; we need to treat them with the tender loving care we all deserve. To do this, we need to start with ourselves, offering ourselves as role models of people who care deeply for themselves as well as their patients and colleagues, and giving them practical ways of developing this way of being for themselves, so that our medical students are inspired and empowered to live in a true and loving way that will sustain them in their own lives.

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