At times, it may seem there is no end to the stresses of medical school. In addition to academic stress, the stress of developing clinical skills and working in an unfamiliar environment can be overwhelming.
Find information and other resources about stress management, mindfulness, financial support, and mental health education on our website. Also, check out our Lift simulation, where students can practice coping strategies to improve their resilience and assess the impact on both patient responses and personal stress. Hands-on scenarios deepen medical student understanding of how to address and overcome burnout during game-play and beyond.
Studies have look at the stress of medical students around the world and have shown that students experience similar stresses which can contribute to burnout1, 2, 3, 4. For example, medical students from Brazil and Saudi Arabia1, 2 complain of stress from:
- Lack of time
- Excessive subject content
- Too many tests
- Expecting too much of themselves
- Family problems
- Worry about the future
- Interpersonal conflict
- Low self-esteem
Common Coping Mechanisms
If you find yourself resonating with any of these stresses, you may want to try some of the most common coping mechanisms used by medical students in several countries other than the U.S.:
- Avoiding comparisons1
- Better time management7
- Emotional support7
- Finding comfort in religion2
- Getting good sleep7
- Participating in leisure activities (cinema, reading, sports, meeting friends and family)1
- Respecting one’s limits1
- Seeking advice and help from others2
- Setting priorities1
- Talking to family members/friends7
Psychological/Inward and Active/Outward Coping Mechanisms
Choose a coping approach that fits your preferred style. In a given situation, there often is more than one healthy way to cope5. Do you favor a more psychological, inward approach? Or are you more active or externally oriented?
Examples of psychological/inward coping mechanisms used most often by medical students include:
- Acceptance of current situations
- Positive reinterpretation (“reframing”)
- Open expression of emotions, and
Examples of active/outward coping mechanisms6 include:
- Participating in available programs
- Engaging with extracurricular activities
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Be careful to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms, however. Medical students’ most common unhealthy coping strategies are:
- Being self-critical2
- Use of escape or avoidance4
- Substance use – typically alcohol, but increasingly cannabis
Knowing the coping strategies used most often by other medical students may give you ideas of how you can respond to the stresses of medical school and avoid burnout, whether you are new to medical school or facing new challenges in your clinical years.
- Pereira M, Barbosa M. Teaching strategies for coping with stress – the perceptions of medical students. BMC Med Educ. 2013;13:50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3627623/. Accessed May 16, 2018.
- Bamuhair SS, Farhan A, I A, et al. Sources of Stress and Coping Strategies among Undergraduate Medical Students Enrolled in a Problem-Based Learning Curriculum. J Biomed Educ. 2015. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jbe/2015/575139/. Accessed July 26, 2018 doi:10.1155/2015/575139.
- Al-Dubai SAR, Al-Naggar RA, Alshagga MA, Rampal KG. Stress and Coping Strategies of Students in a Medical Faculty in Malaysia. Malays J Med Sci MJMS. 2011;18(3):57-64. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3216229/. Accessed May 16, 2018.
- Bassols AMS, Carneiro BB, Guimarães GC, et al. Stress and coping in a sample of medical students in Brazil. Arch Clin Psychiatry São Paulo. 2015;42(1):1-5. https://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_abstract&pid=S0101-60832015000100001&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en. Accessed May 16, 2018 doi:10.1590/0101-60830000000038.
- Schiller JH, Stansfield RB, Belmonte DC, et al. Medical Students’ Use of Different Coping Strategies and Relationship With Academic Performance in Preclinical and Clinical Years. Teach Learn Med. 2018;30(1):15-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/10401334.2017.1347046. Accessed May 16, 2018 doi:10.1080/10401334.2017.1347046.
- Fares J, Al Tabosh H, Saadeddin Z, El Mouhayyar C, Aridi H. Stress, Burnout and Coping Strategies in Preclinical Medical Students. North Am J Med Sci. 2016;8(2):75-81. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4791902/. Accessed May 16, 2018 doi:10.4103/1947-2714.177299.
- Jahan F, Siddiqui M, Mitwally M, Said N, Al Zubidi J, Said H. Perception of Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Coping Strategies among Medical Students at Oman Medical College Middle East J Fam Med. 2016;14.