If you go to medical school, you will be stressed. Bigly.

Two posts on KevinMD highlight the problems facing many medical students today.

The first was by an anonymous rising fourth-year student who has come to the conclusion that going to medical school was “a terrible, terrible decision.” It ended with a comment that medical school “is not fun. It’s jarring, scary, disappointing and absolutely depressing.”

The second was by another anonymous student who described how miserable he (or she) has been since he started medical school. He said, “’burnout’ is the word I would use to best describe my medical school experience.” On the day he wrote his post, he was about to text the surgery residents to tell them he would not be there for the last day of his rotation because he was too anxious.

He mentioned a strong family history of anxiety disorders and being diagnosed with depression and anxiety as he was applying to medical school. He did not disclose this during the application process.

Burnout is not limited to a few students. A literature review in 2013 found “at least half of all medical students may be affected by burnout during their medical education.”

Nor is the problem confined to medical students. A national survey published in Academic Medicine in 2014 found that 58.2 percent of medical students, 50.8 percent of residents/fellows, and 40 percent of early career physicians screened positive for depression.

Last week, Medscape’s 2017 Lifestyle Report, a survey of practicing physicians, found that 51 percent were burned out — an increase from 40 percent in 2013. The Medscape results corroborate a 2014 study by Mayo Clinic investigators who found at least one symptom of burnout in 54.4 percent of practicing physicians compared to 45.5 percent in 2011.

A survey of surgery residents from 10 New England programs found that work-related stress was said to be at least moderate by 77.1 percent and severe or extreme by 15.1 percent of those who responded. The 7.8 percent who did not feel as stressed must have been on their research rotations.

According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, applicants to medical school for the 2016-2017 academic year exceeded 53,000. Here’s how it has gone for the last five years.


So here is my question. With the evidence that about half of all medical students, residents, and practicing physicians are burned out and all of the blogs and articles about burnout, why are more people applying to medical school in record numbers every year?

If you go to medical school, you will be stressed — bigly. It should not come as a surprise. Like cigarettes, maybe med school applications should contain a warning.

Oh and if you think that medical school and residency are stressful, just wait until you are in practice on your own and responsible for what happens to every single patient you care for.

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.  This article originally appeared in Physician’s Weekly.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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