Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Student

Improving student mental wellbeing

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 13 September 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l2421
  1. Paul Welford, academic foundation year 2 (surgery)1,
  2. Aileen O’Brien, reader in psychiatry and education2
  1. 1Severn Deanery, Bristol
  2. 2St George’s, University of London
  1. paul.welford{at}

What are UK medical schools doing to help students’ mental health, and what can students do for their own wellbeing?

In 2015, Student BMJ conducted a health survey of readers. On average, the 1122 respondents rated their stress levels as 5.3/10, not including exam periods. Only 32.6% of respondents thought that adequate support was available to them. The survey identified room for improvement and efforts are under way to improve the wellbeing of medical students.

Challenges faced by medical students

Poor mental wellbeing is not synonymous with mental illness. A 2016 report by the Higher Education Policy Institute on mental health in students defined mental wellbeing as “having the emotional resilience to cope with everyday pressures, enjoy life and undertake productive work while having a belief in one’s own and others’ worth.”1 Students affected by mental disorders can have positive mental wellbeing.

Speaking under a pseudonym, Nadia, a foundation year 1 doctor, says that it was geographical isolation that challenged her emotional resilience at medical school. “I have no family in this country,” she says. “Although I enjoyed the independence this afforded me, I did miss my parents.” Nadia also struggled with the everyday pressures of clinical medicine. “When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can take on their burden,” she says.

As a quiet person, the social pressures of problem based learning brought unexpected stress, says Sonia Shrimanker, now a foundation year 1 doctor. Shrimanker recalled the intense competitiveness of her first year at Liverpool medical school, saying that she compared herself with others and …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription