RESEARCH – November 2014

Medical students’ stress, burnout and health in the first three study years

Authors: Eda Merisalu, Ulrike Pötz, Ulrich Wiesmann, Merli Ilves, Mare Vähi

Articles PDF


Aim. The purpose of this study was to assess subjective health, stress, mood, motivation and burnout among medical students in the first, third and fifth semesters, and to compare the results for the semesters and specialities.

Method. The cross-sectional study was carried out in autumn 2010. An anonymous questionnaire was sent to the medical students who had been registered in the course lists. The questionnaire used in the study was completed on the basis of international validated questionnaires. Data analysis was based on 76 items in 7 areas: general data, study motivation, confidence in passing exams successfully, positiive and negative affectivity, stress, health and burnout indicators. Descriptive statistics, c2-test, one-way ANOVA, non-parametric t-test (Mann-Whitney U test) and dispersioon analyses were used.

Results. The sample consisted of 345 medical students. The study group had an average age of 20.8 (±1.9) years and most of them were Estonians and women. The total average response rate (RR) was 51.6%, while it was higher among the therapy students (60%) and lower among the pharmacy students (25.5%). The proportion of respondents with high stress and poor health, study motivation and self-confidence to pass exams was higher in the 5th semester compared with the 1st semester (p=0.0001). Comparison of average scores showed that in the 5th semester the levels of stress, emotional exhaustion, cynicism, negative affectivity and number of symptoms were higher, and the scores of general and mental health, study motivation and self-confidence to pass exams were lower compared with the corresponding results of the 1st and 3rd semesters (p<0.001). The stomatology students reported lower emotional exhaustion and negative affectivity compared with the therapy and pharmacy students (p<0.002). More symptoms and negativism were reported by the women compared with the men (p=0.044 and p=0.001, respectively).

Conclusions. Medical students’ stress, health, mood, motivation and self-confidence depend on semester, on speciality and to some degree also on gender. To prevent the stress, burnout and sickness of medical students, more attention should be paid to their stress and health, especially in the fifth semester, focusing on the stress and health of female and therapy students. The best stress management programmes for medical students should be launched alreadyat the beginning of the study course.