In the July 2021 issue of the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, a study by researchers at the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey looked at the connection between extracurricular activities and lectures to mitigate burnout among its students. It found that the best method is to learn more about how each individual student deals with burnout, rather than implement programs or lectures aimed at an entire group of students.
Burnout, defined as emotional exhaustion and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment, is becoming an increasingly significant problem among medical students, according to several research studies, including a 2019 paper published in Academic Psychiatry. Burnout can result in students regretting their career choice by graduation, and it can make it more challenging for them to empathize with patients and subordinates.
Lectures vs. extracurricular activities
Research has shown that up to 50% of students in medical school have experienced burnout. To learn more about how extracurricular activities and lectures can impact student burnout, researchers at the Rowan surveyed students and asked about the effectiveness of didactic lectures on burnout, along with the level of their participation in clubs and school social networks. An anonymous survey was sent to 765 students, and 597 responded to 16 questions that asked about how involvement in these activities might influence burnout rates.
Results showed that women (39.9% of participants who reported their gender) spent more time in clubs than men (38.4% of participants), but there were no gender differences in burnout rates. Among those who reported their race in the survey, 38.4% were white, 3.7% were Black or African American, and 27.6% were Asian. Among those who reported their ethnicity, 5.2% were Hispanic, and 73.2% were non-Hispanic. Among those who reported their placement, 22.8% were in their first year at Rowan, 20.9% were in their second year, 21.1% were in their third year, and 24.1% were in their fourth year.
Fear of reaching out
The study revealed that fear of stigma, lack of resources and worries concerning impact on future career are just some of the reasons students hesitate to reach out for help. Researchers pointed out that not all students may feel equipped to deal with what they encounter while in medical school, or they might feel the need to suppress their hardships and thus need guidance and outside accomplishments to combat challenges. Mental toughness, positive emotions, and resiliency can also be helpful in fighting the instincts to give into burnout and the medical school pressures, as well as strong support systems.
Students at Rowan often have opportunities to attend lectures on burnout to guide them through it, researchers wrote. Results showed students participated in an average of 2.4 wellness lectures, and 1.8 school sanctioned clubs, with the most common including exercise/physical activity (70%). Nearly half (43.6%) of Rowan’s students were in medicine related clubs at the time of the survey, while 40.4% participated in community service events, 20.9% were in nonmedical academic clubs, 16.8% in religious activities, 16.6% in music, 6.5% in art/theater and 9.9% in other clubs. Reasons for being involved included building future CV’s, engaging with peers, helping others, learning purposes, relaxing and parental encouragement.
The study discovered that overall, the results shone a light on the importance of understanding individual burnout, not necessarily what it looks like for all medical students. Each student needs active intervention to avoid burnout and needs to deal with it in a way that works best for their individual paths. Burnout lectures alone are not enough to fully combat the issue as needed. Each factor of each student needs to be taken into consideration, but the basics of healthy living and involvement with nonmedical activities are strong places to start.