Almost one-in-five students across a range of medical third level courses suffer extreme stress according to a new study, with an academic supervisor claiming stress during training can help once they are working in frontline fields.
The study, titled ’’Perceived stress experienced by undergraduate healthcare professional students throughout their degree’’, surveyed 205 students at University College Cork across a range of courses, led by general nursing and pharmacy and also including medicine and dentistry.
It found more than 64% of students experienced moderate stress with 18.7% experiencing high stress.
The study was conducted by members of the Pharmaceutical Care Research Group at the School of Pharmacy in UCC and the Department of Pharmacy at Cork’’s Mercy University Hospital.
One of the academic supervisors, Dr Kevin Murphy of UCC’’s School of Pharmacy, said the study found that there were differences in the level of stress reported by some students in different courses.
"What our study did show was that the students broadly named the same two aspects as the biggest causes of stress: Summer exams and overall workload throughout the year," he said.
First years were the only year group excluded from the study, which was conducted last September.
Dr Murphy said: "Within any group of people there will be a natural variation in the level of stress experienced. A similar percentage of students were experiencing low stress while two-thirds were experiencing a moderate level of stress."
Stress is an inevitable part of education and life in general. It helps us all achieve our best but excessive stress can do the opposite.
"The goal of third-level institutions like UCC is to ensure that students learn to the best of their abilities so that when they leave as graduates, they are well placed to benefit society from the beginning.
"In general, health service profession courses would have a low dropout rate and I would attribute this to the support that students receive throughout their education," he said.
One aspect not covered in the study is any stress associated with students’’ future jobs, not least now with some being drafted in to assist with the coronavirus outbreak.
Dr Murphy said: "Since the vast majority of students did not report experiencing high levels of stress, I do not see stress during their education as a hindrance. Healthcare environments will contribute to stress as do all work environments.
"The training that students receive does not try to hide the stress but provides students with the knowledge, skills and experience to thrive in those environments."
He said an important part of health service profession education is that students spend time in healthcare environments supervised by an experienced professional so that their confidence and ability to work in those environments increases.
"This will ultimately benefit patients because when the students qualify, they are more prepared for what they are going to face."
He said at a university level, UCC is providing more specialist services for students experiencing high levels of stress such as the confidential student counselling service, which is staffed by qualified professionals, and the UCC Niteline service that is run by UCC Peer Support.
"The university needs to promote these services more so that the stigma of contacting them can be reduced and those that need the services use them," he added.