Medical staff are exposed to high levels of stress not only at work, but also during their training and education. Several studies have found that stress levels and mental health issues are higher among medical students than in comparable groups. In order to tackle this important issue, the seminar "Coping with stress" was introduced at MedUni Vienna in 2018 as a compulsory part of the first year of medical studies. The aim of the seminar was and is to reduce the risk of stress and burnout among students and to improve their health skills and coping strategies. As a recent study published by MedUni Vienna in the journal "BMC Medical Education" shows that symptoms of stress and burnout in students that participated in the seminar were significantly reduced.
As part of the study, data was collected on burnout risk, life satisfaction, stress levels and knowledge of available support services before and after attending the seminar "Coping with stress" at MedUni Vienna. As the lessons had to take place online for some time due to Covid-19, the differences in the effectiveness of live and virtual seminar units could also be explored during the observation period 2020-2023. The main findings of the surveys via online questionnaire were as follows: Students who took part in the seminar on site reported an immediate reduction in burnout symptoms, a decrease in stress levels and better knowledge of support options. Participants in the online seminar reported a similar increase in knowledge, but no changes in mental health outcomes. In the control group, consisting of medical students from previous years, in which the seminar was not yet part of the curriculum, none of the positive effects were observed.
Social interaction as a key component
Social interactions with the teaching staff and other students as well as group activities appeared to be the key components for the positive effect of the seminar, as most of the positive effects were not observed when students participated in an online version of the seminar. "It seems likely that the observed effects are not limited to medical students, but also apply to other comparable student populations. However, future studies are needed to investigate this," concluded study authors Benedikt Till, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler (both from MedUni Vienna’s Center for Public Health) and Angelika Hofhansl (MedUni Vienna’s Teaching Center).
Overload due to pressure to perform
Previous studies have identified overload due to pressure to perform as a major cause of high stress levels among medical students. According to a recent meta-analysis of studies in which burnout was recorded using psychometric measures, the prevalence of burnout symptoms among medical students is 37 percent, with some research papers even mentioning more than 50 percent. Several studies have also found that medical students with burnout symptoms show poorer performance in their professional development and are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
Publication: BMC Medical Education
Effects of the mental health promotion seminar ’Coping with stress’ in the undergraduate medical curriculum of the Medical University of Vienna
Benedikt Till, Angelika Hofhansl & Thomas Niederkrotenthaler