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BMC Medical Education [electronic resource]




BACKGROUND: The prevalence of mental health struggles among students in medical school is widely reported; however, little is known about how it is impacted by the medical school curriculum. This study aimed to evaluate differences in anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion in medical students based on gender, class year, and curriculum.

METHODS: An anonymous online survey consisting of questions from established, validated questionnaires about demographics, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, and personal health behaviors was sent to 817 medical students who attended Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine during the Spring of 2021. When applying to this school, each of these students had the option to choose either the problem-based learning (PBL) or lecture-based learning (LBL) curriculum track.

RESULTS: The survey was completed by 222 students. Females experienced higher levels of anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion than males. Students in the PBL had lower levels of emotional exhaustion than their peers in the LBL. Increase in emotional exhaustion was most pronounced between 1st and 2nd year students. Emotional exhaustion was inversely correlated with sleep and exercise.

CONCLUSIONS: On average, students who were either male or in the PBL curriculum experienced less mental distress in the form of anxiety, depression, and emotional exhaustion than their peers. While gender continues to be an established factor in how mental distress is experienced, the reduced levels of emotional exhaustion in PBL students is a novel finding that can potentially shed light on how to better optimize medical education. Despite the inherent selection bias and lower number of PBL students, to our knowledge, this is the first study comparing two different curricula within a single institution. This finding along with a focus on good sleep and exercise habits may provide a path for improving mental health in medical students.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Published Citation

Jestin, M., Sharma, S., Jhaveri, D. et al. Mental health differences in medical students based on curriculum and gender. BMC Med Educ 23, 971 (2023).