Medical School Burnout – Don’t Fall into the Trap
As a future healthcare provider, you navigate a difficult curriculum, demanding clinical placements, and other outside pressures like family responsibilities. Yet, amidst this journey, there’s a silent enemy, one that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late – burnout.
It’s crucial to recognize the signs of burnout early and to create habits for mental and emotional wellness. You, along with your current and future patients, colleagues, and family, will benefit from your diligence.
Symptoms of Medical School Burnout
Medical school burnout isn’t merely feeling tired or stressed; it’s more complex than that. Burnout involves emotional exhaustion, where you feel drained and fatigued on a regular basis.
But less talked about are symptoms like poor concentration, depersonalization, and a sense of little to no personal accomplishment. Depersonalization, which may be a new term to you, is exhibited as a cynical and detached attitude towards patients and loved ones. As for a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, be aware of feelings of ineffectiveness and incompetence. These feelings may point towards burnout.
Causes of Burnout in Medical School
Obviously, the intense academic pressure and workload in medical school are significant contributors. The demanding curriculum coupled with the pressure to excel on every assessment and project can lead to chronic stress, which may lead to burnout and even depression.
The struggle to maintain a healthy school-life balance magnifies the issue too, as you often sacrifice personal time for study time and neglect self-care like consistent exercise and regular, healthy meals. Also, if you lack a strong support system, both academically and personally, the chances of experiencing burnout increases.
Finally note, many medical students, perhaps you in this case, were among the top of their classes in their previous schools. Yet medical programs are full of the “top of their class” students. This new competitive environment, combined with a drive to be perfect, adds even more pressure and may lead to burnout.
Coping Strategies for Medical Students
If you’re experiencing burnout, you’ve taken the first steps in coping with it. You’re educating yourself and acknowledging the issue.
Of course, there’s still more to do to feel energized again and engaged with school and the people around you. Implement time management practices and look to prioritize assignments. Building a strong support network, including peers, mentors, and mental health professionals, will help you better manage your time and prioritize tasks. They can hold you accountable and offer suggestions (for time management and for what assignments should get your most energy and focus).
Lastly and most importantly, seek professional help. Ensure that your mental health concerns are addressed promptly and fully.
Preventative Measures to Avoid Medical School Burnout
The ultimate goal is to avoid burnout altogether. Below are some tips to help:
Spread awareness about medical school burnout among your peers and mentors. Share this article or discuss it in study groups and social circles. Knowledge and awareness are powerful tools!
Make a conscious effort to prioritize your well-being and encourage others to do the same. Requirements of medical school make it difficult. But what’s the point of learning to heal others if your own mind and body are sick? Incorporate self-care practices into your daily routine like taking study breaks, engaging in hobbies, or seeking professional support when needed.
Build a support network.
Actively build a support network within your medical community. Connect with peers, mentors, and mental health professionals who can offer guidance and understanding. Remember, we all need a community.
Advocate for change.
Be an advocate for systemic change within medical education. Sadly, some studies report that as many as 50% of medical doctors admit to being burned out. Most acknowledge that this burnout began during medical school. Many educators and physicians agree that a change is needed.
Seek help and support.
If you or someone you know is experiencing burnout, don’t hesitate to seek help. Reach out to mentors, counselors, or mental health professionals. Recognizing the need for support is a sign of strength and self-awareness.
Summarizing Medical School Burnout
Admittedly, medical school is demanding. The pursuit of knowledge and excellence is crucial in this field. But with these very high standards looms the possibility of burnout. Acknowledging the possibility and educating yourself on the symptoms are two of the first steps to avoiding it. We encourage you to talk about it openly and to seek professional help if you are currently experiencing burnout or know that a fellow student is.