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      The characteristics of depressive symptoms in medical students during medical education and training: a cross-sectional study

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          Medical education and training can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms that might lead to possible academic and professional consequences. We aimed to investigate the characteristics of depressive symptoms among 481 medical students (79.8% of the total who matriculated).


          The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and cluster analyses were used in order to better describe the characteristics of depressive symptoms. Medical education and training in Brazil is divided into basic (1 st and 2 nd years), intermediate (3 rd and 4 th years), and internship (5 th and 6 th years) periods. The study organized each item from the BDI into the following three clusters: affective, cognitive, and somatic. Statistical analyses were performed using analysis of variance (ANOVA) with post-hoc Tukey corrected for multiple comparisons.


          There were 184 (38.2%) students with depressive symptoms (BDI > 9). The internship period resulted in the highest BDI scores in comparison to both the basic (p < .001) and intermediate (p < .001) periods. Affective, cognitive, and somatic clusters were significantly higher in the internship period. An exploratory analysis of possible risk factors showed that females (p = .020) not having a parent who practiced medicine (p = .016), and the internship period (p = .001) were factors for the development of depressive symptoms.


          There is a high prevalence towards depressive symptoms among medical students, particularly females, in the internship level, mainly involving the somatic and affective clusters, and not having a parent who practiced medicine. The active assessment of these students in evaluating their depressive symptoms is important in order to prevent the development of co-morbidities and suicide risk.

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          Most cited references 63

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          Systematic review of depression, anxiety, and other indicators of psychological distress among U.S. and Canadian medical students.

          To systematically review articles reporting on depression, anxiety, and burnout among U.S. and Canadian medical students. Medline and PubMed were searched to identify peer-reviewed English-language studies published between January 1980 and May 2005 reporting on depression, anxiety, and burnout among U.S. and Canadian medical students. Searches used combinations of the Medical Subject Heading terms medical student and depression, depressive disorder major, depressive disorder, professional burnout, mental health, depersonalization, distress, anxiety, or emotional exhaustion. Reference lists of retrieved articles were inspected to identify relevant additional articles. Demographic information, instruments used, prevalence data on student distress, and statistically significant associations were abstracted. The search identified 40 articles on medical student psychological distress (i.e., depression, anxiety, burnout, and related mental health problems) that met the authors' criteria. No studies of burnout among medical students were identified. The studies suggest a high prevalence of depression and anxiety among medical students, with levels of overall psychological distress consistently higher than in the general population and age-matched peers by the later years of training. Overall, the studies suggest psychological distress may be higher among female students. Limited data were available regarding the causes of student distress and its impact on academic performance, dropout rates, and professional development. Medical school is a time of significant psychological distress for physicians-in-training. Currently available information is insufficient to draw firm conclusions on the causes and consequences of student distress. Large, prospective, multicenter studies are needed to identify personal and training-related features that influence depression, anxiety, and burnout among students and explore relationships between distress and competency.
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            How Do Distress and Well-being Relate to Medical Student Empathy? A Multicenter Study

            Objective To determine whether lower levels of empathy among a sample of medical students in the United States are associated with personal and professional distress and to explore whether a high degree of personal well-being is associated with higher levels of empathy. Design Multi-institutional, cross-sectional survey. Setting All medical schools in Minnesota (a private medical school, a traditional public university, and a public university with a focus in primary care). Participants A total of 1,098 medical students. Measurements Validated instruments were used to measure empathy, distress (i.e., burnout and symptoms of depression), and well-being (high quality of life). Results Medical student empathy scores were higher than normative samples of similarly aged individuals and were similar to other medical student samples. Domains of burnout inversely correlated with empathy (depersonalization with empathy independent of gender, all P < .02, and emotional exhaustion with emotive empathy for men, P = .009). Symptoms of depression inversely correlated with empathy for women (all P ≤ .01). In contrast, students’ sense of personal accomplishment demonstrated a positive correlation with empathy independent of gender (all P < .001). Similarly, achieving a high quality of life in specific domains correlated with higher empathy scores (P < .05). On multivariate analysis evaluating measures of distress and well-being simultaneously, both burnout (negative correlation) and well-being (positive correlation) independently correlated with student empathy scores. Conclusions Both distress and well-being are related to medical student empathy. Efforts to reduce student distress should be part of broader efforts to promote student well-being, which may enhance aspects of professionalism. Additional studies of student well-being and its potential influence on professionalism are needed.
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              Personal life events and medical student burnout: a multicenter study.

              Burnout, a marker of professional distress prevalent among residents and physicians, has been speculated to originate in medical school. Little is known about burnout in medical students. The authors sought to identify the prevalence of burnout, variation of its prevalence during medical school, and the impact of personal life events on burnout and other types of student distress. All medical students (n = 1,098) attending the three medical schools in Minnesota were surveyed in spring 2004 using validated instruments to assess burnout, quality of life, depression, and alcohol use. Students were also asked about the prevalence of positive and negative personal life events in the previous 12 months. A total of 545 medical students (response rate 50%) completed the survey. Burnout was present in 239 (45%) of medical students. While the frequency of a positive depression screen and at-risk alcohol use decreased among more senior students, the frequency of burnout increased (all p < .03). The number of negative personal life events in the last 12 months also correlated with the risk of burnout (p = .0160). Personal life events demonstrated a stronger relationship to burnout than did year in training on multivariate analysis. Burnout appears common among U.S. medical students and may increase by year of schooling. Despite the notion that burnout is primarily linked to work-related stress, personal life events also demonstrated a strong relationship to professional burnout. The authors' findings suggest both personal and curricular factors are related to burnout among medical students. Efforts to decrease burnout must address both of these elements.

                Author and article information

                BMC Med Educ
                BMC Medical Education
                BioMed Central
                11 December 2008
                : 8
                : 60
                [1 ]Psychiatry and Medical Psychology Disciplines, ABC Regional Medical School, Santo André, Brazil
                [2 ]Psychiatry Department of the Medical Faculty, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
                [3 ]Psychiatry and Medical Psychology Department, Federal University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
                Copyright © 2008 Baldassin et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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