Burnout is a measure of physical and psychological exhaustion and mental distress catalysed primarily by occupational and professional demands.

Distress during medical school can lead to burnout, with significant consequences, particularly if burnout continues into residency and beyond.

Most medical students plan on pursuing a career in medicine believing that their hard work will make a difference in so many people’s lives. Students enter this field knowing that they will have to work harder and longer than if they had chosen most other career fields. While they are mentally prepared to go through the grind, what many students do not anticipate is how the experience can change them and how early physician burnout can occur.

Burnout can occur due to three distinct reasons

Depersonalization: Continuous exposure to ailing patients can leave med students feeling overwhelmed and depleted. To counteract this, many residents start to see patients more impersonally, causing them to be less empathetic in their treatment.

Emotional Exhaustion: Medical students have still not got a handle on staying detached from their patients. The emotional aspects of the work can result in residents feeling overextended and emotionally drained.

Negative Sense of Accomplishment: It takes time – several years in fact, to come to grips with the fact that sometimes, no matter what you do, it is not enough. This lowered sense of achievement causes med students to find the work less fulfilling than they thought it would be.

Coping with Burnouts

As in any other profession, the most effective way to prevent burnout is by making a concerted effort not to make this your whole life. Sure, there’s so much to study about and catch up with but you still have to stop and take a break if only to recharge your batteries. Keep in touch with family and friends. Make time regularly to spend doing something you love, whether it is going to the movies, going trekking or catching up with your knitting.

Seek out advice from a mentor or a course advisor if you are feeling completely overwrought. Many students hesitate to ask for help because of they may be perceived as being simply incapable of keeping up with the coursework. Don’t let this fear stop you from getting the help you need. Burnout is not a figment of your imagination. It is real and it can happen to anyone. Most medical schools have recognized this and are making a concerted effort to address this issue in their curriculum in an attempt to prevent burnout in their students. In many medical schools, faculty members are encouraged to be more proactive and use their own experiences to help students cope with the stress of rigorous medical programs.


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