Examining stress and response to stress in medical students and new medical graduates

06 November 2013

MOST MEMBERS OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION feel stressed at some time. If stress is ongoing, impairment may occur (defined as being unable to safely or reliably perform one’s role). A continuum appears to exist between functioning well, being distressed and becoming impaired, with external (environment-related) and internal (personalrelated) stressors determining where an individual will lie on the continuum. We are conducting a study which aims to determine whether distress in new medical graduates can be predicted before the graduates become impaired and unable to safely or reliably perform their role. Study commencement Our study, which commenced in 1997, initially looked at predictors for “troubled” and “troublesome” interns. Hospital- based focus groups comprising interns (postgraduate Year 1), resident medical officers (postgraduate Year 2 and above), ward-based nursing staff and medical administrators reported on internal and external stressors for junior medical staff. Residents and nurses reported similar external stressors, whereas the internal stressors reported by the two groups were quite different (Box 1). Residents tended to report issues relating to “troubled” interns (eg, poor support, few outside interests), whereas nurses identified factors relating more to “troublesome” interns (eg, poor attitude, unprofessionalism). In other words, resident staff seemed to be able to identify their stressed and at-risk peers before effects on performance were observed (Box 1).