What if I Just Want to Quit Medical School?

Sheila M. Bigelow, DO

Disclosures

August 07, 2013

In This Article

Question

Medical school and residency can be tough physically, mentally, and socially. What's the best way to get through those tough times when all I want to do is quit?

Response from Sheila M. Bigelow, DO
Resident Physician - Pediatrics, UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio

Depression in Medical Students

Medical school and residency are some of the biggest challenges of our careers. Along with the good, exciting times come the hard, rough times. Long hours, little sleep, and a high-stress environment all create the perfect storm. These feelings can fall anywhere in the spectrum from burnout and depression to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

In a study of more than 4000 medical students at 7 medical schools in the United States, 49.6% of participants experienced feelings of burnout and 11.2% had suicidal ideation.[1] Another study, done at the University of Michigan Medical School, showed a prevalence of 14.3% for moderate and severe depression. Women had a higher rate than men (18% vs 9%).

Even more startling, this study found that those students who were moderately to severely depressed were more likely to believe that their peers would respect their opinions less and faculty would view them as unable to handle their responsibilities if their depression became known. First- and second-year medical students more often than third-and fourth-year students agreed with the statement that seeking medical treatment for depression would make them feel less intelligent.[1]

As physicians and medical students, we are trained to interpret numbers, and these statistics are truly scary. Burnout, depression, and suicidal ideation are unfortunate parts of our training, but they don't have to lead to tragic consequences. First and foremost, if you (or a friend) are feeling depressed or having thoughts about hurting or killing yourself, you must seek medical help. Many medical schools and hospitals have mental health programs for students and employees, and others can at least direct you to the proper resources. The notion that seeking help is not respectable or that it reflects badly on you is a ridiculous idea that we all should resist. We should seek to create an environment in the classroom, on the wards, and in the clinic that is supportive and educational, not demeaning and belittling, especially when it comes to mental health. We learn to take care of our patients both physically and emotionally, and we should also take care of ourselves and each other.

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