Context: The mental health crisis in medicine cannot be explained by burnout alone. Physicians are not immune to this crisis and are known to have higher rates of suicide and depression than the general population. A high prevalence of mental health symptoms has been observed in early medical training.
Objectives: This study was completed to characterize medical students’ mental well-being and provide guidance for timely intervention.
Methods: An annual prospective, voluntary, anonymous, cross-sectional survey of medical students was completed over a 4-year period in medical school from 2016 to 2019. The survey was created based on standardized psychiatric screening tools assessing symptoms of depression, anxiety, burnout, and sleep problems. In each of those years, 1,257 (2016), 1,254 (2017), 1,221 (2018), and 1,220 (2019) enrolled students, respectively, were invited to participate. Data on students’ mental health were analyzed in relation to their year of school separately for each survey year utilizing SAS 9.4.
Results: A total of 973 students in 2016, 889 students in 2017, 547 students in 2018, and 606 students in 2019 participated in the study. For depression and burnout subscales, an increase in symptom scores were observed every survey year (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019) by the second or third year of medical school with a clinically significant effect size. Persistently high levels of anxiety were observed throughout medical school, with significant increases after the first year noted in the 2016 and 2017 surveys, but not in the 2018 or 2019 surveys. Similarly, significant changes in sleep disturbance were found in the 2016 and 2017 surveys, but not in 2018 or 2019.
Conclusions: Symptoms of burnout, depression, and anxiety were observed throughout all four years of medical school, with increases starting after the first year. Early intervention is needed to support students’ mental health and increase access to care and resources.