Most medical students feel low sense of personal achievement, new study finds

January 7, 2020

Despite high performance in medical school, 80 percent showing signs of burnout.

Despite their high performance in medical school, 80 percent of medical students have a low sense of personal achievement, according to a new study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

The results come from a survey of 385 first- through fourth-year medical students aimed at gauging their levels of burnout, which experts say has three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of personal achievement.

“That 80 percent feel a low sense of achievement is a bit ironic, considering that these are all high-performing individuals," says Elizabeth Beverly, associate professor in family medicine at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and lead author on the study, in a news release. "However, it also makes sense in that they have gone from an environment where they were standouts to one where they are now on an equal academic playing field.

While the percentage of low sense of personal achievement is quite high, only 2.3 percent of respondents reported high levels of emotional exhaustion and 17 percent reported high levels of depersonalization which are associated with higher levels of stress, poorer sleeping, and higher smartphone addiction scores, according to the study.

In the release, Beverly says she is still concerned with what role smartphone addiction plays in burnout, as 22 percent of respondents met the basic score qualifying for the affliction.

"I think the findings warrant additional research into how smartphone addiction can exacerbate burnout," says Beverly. "Increasingly, medical education incorporates smart devices, so we want to be mindful of how much we condition students to rely on them."

Burnout is a widespread condition that has affected 92 percent of physicians, according to the 2019 Medical Economics Physician Burnout Survey, which saw responses from 1,200 physicians in June.

Among those who answered that survey, 80 percent said they have not and do not plan to seek professional help or counseling to deal with burnout symptoms in their lives and 63 percent said they had avoided expressing their feelings of burnout out of fear of being judged negatively by their peers.

The most repeated possible solutions to burnout cited by survey respondents were physicians leading the future of medicine, and giving doctors more autonomy over their practice environment.