What is medical student burnout?
Burnout is the term given to long term physical and emotional exhaustion, and a lack of interest particularly related to an individual’s occupation (we consider this to be ‘being a medical student’).
Its simple to think of burnout as the consequence of long term professional and social stresses that are signs that you may be struggling as a student. Important? Yes, as the suggestion from the research in the US is that students who are suffering from burnout (as opposed to depression and other medical problems) are more likely to behave in an unprofessional manner. This is a real concern, given the penalties and problems associated with this behaviour in both the short and the long term.
Why is burnout important?
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly the research evidence suggests that students who are suffering from other medical problems, such as depression, are no more likely to engage in unprofessional behaviour (e.g. cheating) than compared to other student’s not suffering form that ailment. This is not the same for burnout. When you consider things, its perhaps unsurprising that the we struggle with openness and candour when you are struggling mentally with your medical school burnout.
How do I know If I’m experiencing burnout?
Unfortunately the best validated burnout tests are not available freely, so we can’t offer you a validated scoring system here! Nevertheless, instead of taking a validated self-reported test, we are giving you the opportunity to work through our own simple checklist, which has the advantage of being tailored especially for medical students. Its quick, free, and you can take it here.
Free Medical Student Burnout Test
Take our quiz below to check if you are experiencing features of burnout. Answer the questions honestly and add your score up as you go.
For each answer, assign yourself a score:
- Not at All = 1 point
- Rarely = 2 points
- Sometimes = 3 points
- Often = 4 points
- Very Often = 5 points
Here are the questions:
- I feel run down and drained of physical or emotional energy.
- I have negative thoughts about my role.
- I am harder and less sympathetic with people than perhaps they deserve.
- I am easily irritated by small problems, or by my co-workers and team.
- I feel misunderstood or unappreciated by my co-workers.
- I feel that I have no one to talk to.
- I feel that I am achieving less than I should.
- I feel under an unpleasant level of pressure to succeed.
- I feel that I am not getting what I want out of my role.
- I feel that I am in the wrong organization or the wrong profession.
- I am frustrated with parts of my role.
- I feel that organizational politics or bureaucracy frustrate my ability to do a good job.
- I feel that there is more work to do than I practically have the ability to do.
- I feel that I do not have time to do many of the things that are important to doing a good quality job.
- I find that I do not have time to plan as much as I would like to.
What does your score mean on our burnout self assessment?
Disclaimer: This is an informal score, intended for medical students, and does not represent medical advice. This score has not been validated, but it is free to use, and modify. This means you can use it yourself under a Creative Commons Licence (Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike). This means you can use it, edit it and share it, as long as you acknowledge the original source.
Minimal signs of burnout as a student.
No signs of burnout as a medical student.
Little sign of burnout here, unless some factors are particularly severe.
Be careful – there are some factors here supporting a level of burnout. You may be at risk of burnout, particularly if several scores are high.
You are exhibiting several features of burnout, and this could become a serious problem. You are at severe risk of burnout – do something about this urgently.
You are exhibiting multiple signs of burnout. You are at very severe risk of burnout – talk to someone, soon.
What can you do about burnout?
Nina Feghali, A General Practitioner and Contributor to Medical Educator gives her opinion. Nina was not involved in the construction of the burnout survey.
“If you are concerned you have burnout, the first thing is to talk to someone: be it a friend, colleague, fellow student, member of family, personal tutor, head of year. It’s generally going to be up to you to make that judgement, as to who is going to be the most appropriate person. Don’t shy away from this and if you do recognise signs of unprofessional behaviour, this is even more important. Acknowledging there is a problem is often the first step to solving it. Whilst I am always sceptical of self-assessments like this, they can provide important pointers. The example presented here simply tests a number of constructs associated with burnout. Remember burnout is common (over half the students studied in the JAMA paper), but it has also been linked with suicidal ideation, and a lack of empathy, and here, poor professionalism. Think carefully about this, and seek help if you are concerned.”