Heavier drinking more common in earlier years, but a quarter of respondents claim to be teetotal on an average week
An online survey by Student BMJ, which asked questions about health and lifestyle habits, shows only one in 10 respondents (82 people) drink more alcohol than the recommended maximum intake of 14 units a week.
Of the 812 UK-based respondents, 24% (192 respondents) reported drinking, on average, no units of alcohol each week.
The responses received represent around 2% of the UK medical student population.
While self-reported surveys are subject to bias because they rely on people accurately remembering and reporting consumption, the results mirror trends among the wider millennial population.
Commenting on the findings, Dominique Thompson, director of the Students' Health Service at the University of Bristol, says: “The news that medical students are caring better for themselves is very welcome. Their rates of alcohol use reflect those of the general student population, with more students choosing to become teetotal.”
The majority of respondents who drank any alcohol consumed less than 10 units per week (57.9%). While, in addition to the 10% who took more than 14 units, 3.8% (31 respondents) report drinking 13-14 units on average each week.
BMA medical students committee welfare lead Twishaa Sheth adds: “Medical students tend to have a ‘work hard, party hard’ stereotype and it is important when studying for any degree to take time out to switch off and socialise.”
“However, it is refreshing and reassuring to see that the majority of respondents are looking after themselves. Hopefully, this goes to show that wellbeing and welfare is coming to the forefront of student minds more and more, which is a step in the right direction.”’
A Manchester third year, who responded to the Student BMJ survey and leads a healthy lifestyle with little alcohol, agrees that he and his fellow students tend to ‘party’ less as they progress through medical school. “This may well tie into the fact that the workload increases through the years and free time decreases,” he says.
He adds that every academic year seems to be busier and the last and he and his peers wish they had enjoyed themselves more in the earlier years.
The survey results reflect this, with first and second years accounting for 55% (45) of respondents who claimed to drink over 14 units of alcohol per week. Final year students - in years five and six of medical school - only accounted for 15% (12) of all respondents who drank more than the recommended limit.
The survey also found that just 7% of respondents (58 students) had taken a new psychoactive substance, for example, methadone, during their time at medical school. A fifth (170 respondents) had taken other illegal drugs . A total of 642 respondents (79.1%) had not experienced illegal drugs while at medical school.
This is similar to among the general population, 18% of 16 – 24 year olds took illegal drugs in 2015/16.
The survey highlights mixed opinion of the pastoral support available for medical students in difficulty. While some respondents said their medical school “pays lip service” to student wellbeing needs, others say counselling support services or their personal tutor are “brilliant.”
The General Medical Council recommends different tutors are responsible for pastoral support and academic progression. It says most schools had introduced wellbeing systems either signposting students to support or providing tailored learning sessions about coping with the intensity of studies.
Medical students also provide support networks for their peers through medical societies or other groups.
Publication: Student BMJ
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