As The Cost Of Medical School Continues To Rise, So Do Rates Of Student Burnout And Substance Abuse

Medical Student Debt Burnout Alcohol Abuse

Physician burnout is not uncommon in today’s medical field. Studies have shown that burnout amongst medical professionals has been on the rise for years, but new research shows that burnout is affecting medical students even more as well.

A recently published Academic Medicine study, conducted by researchers from the Mayo Medical School and the American Medical Association (AMA), surveyed 4,402 medical students in the U.S. and found associations of burnout and alcohol abuse. Approximately one-third of the students met criteria for alcohol abuse/dependence. 80 percent of students had burnout, alcohol abuse/dependence, or depressive symptoms, and 70 percent had burnout, alcohol abuse/ dependence, and/or suicidal ideation.

These results are staggering, especially when compared to a similar survey of college-educated 22- to 34-year, only 15.6 percent of whom met criteria for burnout and alcohol abuse.

Students who exhibited alcohol abuse symptoms were more likely to be younger, single, in their first two years of medical school and, most importantly, have higher educational debt. Considering student loan debt is consistently on the rise, as well as the fact that on average, 78 percent of medical students will graduate with $100,000 in educational debt, these findings are exceptionally alarming.

The study’s authors wrote, “The escalating cost of medical school needs to be more effectively addressed, especially if health care reform and reimbursement changes lead to reduced earning potential in some specialty areas.”

Similar conclusions were found in another recent study conducted by the University of Southampton and Solent NHS Trust, which surveyed 400 undergraduates in the United Kingdom on their mental health and financial situations, and showed that anxiety and alcoholism amongst students worsen over time due to struggles to pay bills.

The Mayo Clinic and AMA researchers explain, “If educational debt continues to rise in the face of lower earnings, the psychological toll of educational debt may become even more severe.”

But until action directly aimed at student loan debt is taken, the researchers also stress the importance of schools implementing wellness curricula to effectively address students’ problems and needs, whether it be common stress or a severe mental problem. These programs should also educate students on the career ramifications of serious mental health issues, such as alcohol dependency or depression, and provide them with strategies and support for dealing with such issues.

The researchers conclude with, “Our study provides further evidence that distress among medical students warrants serious attention,” the authors concluded. “A multifaceted approach to reducing alcohol use, ameliorating burnout, and reducing the cost of medical education is needed.”

Samantha Hendricks
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