The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), a global health initiative of Qatar Foundation, called attention to the lack of protection against mental health challenges for medical students and healthcare professionals at the 71st General Assembly of the International Federation of Medical Students Association in Istanbul, the largest youth-led global assembly of medical students in the world.
In a session titled, ‘Tangled Minds: Safeguarding the mental health of medical students,’ Nick Bradshaw, WISH director of partnerships and outreach, raised concern over the poor levels of mental health medical students experience, identifying burnout as one of the top factors affecting their mental well-being.
Among medical students, burnout – where stress is not successfully managed – can lead to serious mental health issues. “Medical students are statistically less prone to mental health issues when they start their studies, and yet within a year they average significantly lower levels of mental health than students in other disciplines, so there’s clearly an issue that needs to be tackled,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw pointed out that burnout may manifest in a number of ways: “It may surface as increased headaches, sleeplessness, poor concentration, gastrointestinal issues, or an increasingly cynical outlook on life. Unfortunately, the high workload of medical students, a culture of pushing through, and the competitive nature of training only serves to exacerbate the problem.
“Around half of medical students suffer from burnout, and ultimately this has a detrimental effect on students’ quality of lives and also on the quality of care given to patients. Students undergoing burnout are likely to alienate themselves socially or exhibit disruptive behaviour. They can also experience feelings of incompetence, uselessness or crushing exhaustion – not a good combination for someone expected to care for others,” he explained.
Bradshaw further detailed some causes that give rise to burnout in medical students. “Societal perceptions such as being seen as superhuman and capable of meeting relentlessly impossible high expectations of them, majorly impact medical students’ mental health, and competing for residency slots and first-time exposure to human suffering and loss can also lead to lower mental well-being.”
Mental health advocacy is a key focus area for WISH as it continues to provide a global platform for tackling the world’s most urgent healthcare challenges. WISH has commissioned a report titled, ‘Our duty of care – a global call to action to protect the mental health of health and care workers,’ to be released ahead of the 2022 Summit, taking place on October 4-6.