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Ryan Syrek, MA
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Med Student Life & Education Report: Are Young Doctors Prepared?

Ryan Syrek, MA  |  August 8, 2016

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Slide 1

We surveyed more than 2000 current medical students (1109 men and 1067 women) about their educational experience. When did they first decide to become a doctor? Have most chosen a specialty? If so, when did they find the right fit? How much debt do students anticipate? Do they feel prepared to handle the financial burden? How do students manage the work-life balance in terms of studying, sleeping, and taking care of their bodies? Would they recommend their own school to others? Do they feel prepared for examinations and residency? Find out the answers to all of these and more in the results of our first-ever medical student survey.

Slide 2

Overwhelmingly, medical students saw the decision to become a doctor as a byproduct of something other than just financial compensation or the prestige of medicine. Although an interest in the subject matter certainly helped steer them, our respondents expressed a desire to help others and felt a "call" toward medicine that extended beyond other career concerns. Of note, compared with women, men were nearly twice as likely to consider financial compensation as a factor and felt more influenced by both the prestige inherent to the career and having other physicians in the family.

Slide 3

The decision to attend medical school was made very early on for most current medical students. More than one half decided to pursue a career in medicine before attending any college, with one quarter deciding even before attending high school.

Slide 4

When it came time to choose a medical school, many respondents had no choice: Nearly 30% were accepted to only one program. Location was a close second in terms of decision-making, with more than one quarter of respondents suggesting that it was the major influence. Notably, women were more moved than men by having made a personal visit to the institution (18% vs 13%).

Slide 5

Although medical students knew they wanted to be doctors from a young age, choosing the specific field of medicine was more difficult. As expected, most students decided on a specialty in their third and fourth years. Surprisingly, more than one half of third-year students and one quarter of fourth-year students still had not settled on a specific area of medicine.

Slide 6

A remarkably small number of medical students considered income to be the biggest concern when choosing their specialty. They also widely failed to see research opportunities and the perceived respect associated with their field as the most important factor. Overwhelmingly, students were swayed by a personal connection to the medical specialty, with three quarters of women suggesting that was the biggest deciding factor.

Slide 7

In further examining the financial motivation behind specialty choice, women were far less likely to emphasize the importance of future earnings. More than one quarter of women saw specific income as slightly important or not important at all, compared with only 15% of men. By contrast, more than 40% of men considered future earnings to be extremely or very important, compared with only 28% of women.

Slide 8

The most popular specialty choices were, unsurprisingly, family/general medicine and emergency medicine. Women were drawn more toward the fields of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology, with more men choosing anesthesiology and cardiology. More women are attending medical school than ever before, and their resulting specialty choices will have a major effect on the future makeup of healthcare.

Slide 9

Although by no means an indictment of the fields, fourth-year medical students enjoyed surgical and ob/gyn rotations the least. Both are demanding fields that require unique skills and interests that are not widely applicable to all medical students. It is worth noting that neither specialty ranked anywhere near the bottom in terms of students who chose to pursue the field.

Slide 10

One of the major concerns for all medical students is debt. Nearly 60% of students anticipate having in excess of $150,000 in debt, with almost 40% expecting more than $200,000. Men were almost 10 percentage points more likely than women to anticipate debt in excess of $200,000. Age also played a factor: Almost one half of those older than 30 years expected more than $200,000 in debt, compared with 36% of those aged 30 years or younger.

Slide 11

The news about financial preparedness may be both better and worse than expected. More than 40% of respondents felt prepared for the debt they are accumulating. However, nearly 40% also felt somewhat or very unprepared to assume the financial burden, with more than one half of those expecting over $200,000 in debt expressing a lack of confidence in their preparedness.

Slide 12

When the data provided by those anticipating the most debt were specifically examined, men felt more comfortable than women with their financial preparedness. Almost one half of men expecting more than $200,000 in debt felt confident in their financial future, compared with less than 40% of women. Alternatively, more than 40% of women felt somewhat or very unprepared for the largest debt burden, compared with about one third of men.

Slide 13

As expected, the biggest challenges in medical school remain overall stress and maintaining a quality work-life balance. Of note, women indicated a greater concern about overall stress, with almost 40% listing that as the biggest challenge, compared with about one quarter of men. Men were more than twice as likely as women to demonstrate concern about subpar education, whereas women were more likely than men to express concern about poor emotional support.

Slide 14

Burnout among medical students is well known. However, it rarely seems to affect the perseverance of those pursuing their medical education. More than 80% have rarely, if ever, considered leaving medical school. That said, almost one half have doubted their ability to be a good physician at some point, and more than one half admit to feeling burned out at least some of the time.

Slide 15

In terms of self-care, sleep may not be as hard to come by as feared. More than three quarters of respondents reported getting adequate sleep sometimes or often, whereas only 23% reported rarely or never getting enough rest. In terms of health, 45% of respondents reported exercising three or more times per week, and less than one quarter claimed to do almost no weekly exercise.

Slide 16

First- and second-year medical students typically study more than 21 hours a week. The highest concentration of studying appears to occur in the second year, with 40% of respondents indicating they studied more than 40 hours every week. By the fourth year, a minority (14%) still studied longer than 40 hours.

Slide 17

Considering that they are being trained to teach others about healthy living, the choices medical students make when it comes to food are interesting. More than one half of respondents eat take-out or restaurant food two or fewer times per week—a rather surprising number, given their demanding schedule.

Slide 18

In what should come as great relief to school administrators, more than three quarters of respondents are satisfied with their educational experience. That said, the vast majority of those who were satisfied indicated only being "somewhat" pleased with the learning experience (49%), and only 27% indicated a high degree of satisfaction.

Slide 19

Among those expressing dissatisfaction with their educational experience, various themes emerged. Two of the most common complaints were a failure of the institution to help students cope with the overwhelming amount of content, and a lack of resources available in terms of examination preparation and preparedness for the future. Lack of communication was also cited as a major source of frustration.

Slide 20

More good news for administrators: The vast majority of students would recommend their school to others. Almost 40% would strongly recommend their institution, with more than 30% willing to give a qualified recommendation.

Slide 21

Although a major source of stress, most students feel prepared for their licensing examination. Nearly 60% expressed at least some degree of confidence in their ability to score well on their examinations, with only 5% expressing a very serious concern about the testing.

Slide 22

Although many students feel prepared for residency, the majority are either neutral or feel somewhat unprepared. Less than 10% feel fully prepared for the challenges of residency, whereas one quarter feel at least somewhat unprepared. Encouragingly, the highest percentage of respondents (34%) felt at least somewhat prepared for residency.

Slide 23
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