Why medical school is depressing and what we should be doing about it

Minh Nguyen

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Minh Nguyen
Third Year Medicine (Graduate)
Flinders University

Minh has been involved with the Flinders Medical Students Society for the last two years as the Publications Officer and initiator of several student well-being activities, and currently is a member of the Expert Reference Group for beyondblue’s Doctors’ Mental Health Program, which provides expert stakeholder advice to beyondblue and its Advisory Committee regarding the development, implementation and evaluation of the Program.


In recent years, there has been quite some attention given to supporting the health and well-being of doctors but less to that of medical students, particularly their mental health and well-being. [1-3] Up to 90% of medical students will need medical care whilst in medical school, and while many of these health needs may be routine, medical students are more susceptible than age-matched peers for serious mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, substance misuse and burnout. [4,5] Preliminary data from a study last year showed that Australian medical students reported higher rates of depression, while another study estimated that one quarter of students suffered from symptoms of mental illness. [6] There is also some evidence that difficulties during medical school may manifest later in one’s medical career. [7] With up to a third of hospital physicians at one point experiencing psychiatric morbidity, identifying and supporting these individuals is essential as these doctors are more likely to deliver sub-optimal patient care, misuse substances and leave the profession early. [8] This article will discuss how medical school can and does have a profound effect on our mental well-being, putting us at risk of depression, burnout and other mental illnesses…