Among the next generation of doctors, many are considering quitting medical school even before donning their long white coats.
A quarter of all medical students in the United States might quit school.
That’s according to a new report from Elsevier Health, which surveyed students to get their perspectives on education, career plans and expectations for the future of health care.
“Elsevier Health’s Clinician of the Future program was launched last year as one of the most expansive direct pulses of doctors’ and nurses’ perspectives on the state of global health care,” Jan Herzhoff, PhD, president of Elsevier Health in New York City, told Fox News Digital.
The 2023 pulse survey, released in September, showed that nursing shortages and clinician burnout are still two dominant concerns for U.S. clinicians — especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
Demands are ‘too much for many students’
The report stemmed from an online survey of about 2,200 students from 91 countries, which was conducted between April and May of this year.
Twenty-three percent of students are “considering dropping out of their undergrad studies altogether,” Herzhoff said.
Another 58% of those remaining in medical programs may pursue careers “outside of direct patient care,” he also said.
Meanwhile, 54% of students have concerns about the toll that a medical or nursing career might take on their mental well-being, the survey found.
The report confirms findings from past evidence-based studies, which showed high levels of distress, burnout and mental health concerns among doctors and medical students, Jonathan Ripp, MD, MPH, dean for well-being and resilience and chief wellness officer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told Fox News Digital.
Ripp was not involved in the Elsevier study.
Dr. Martin Rubin, psychiatrist and course director of a popular wellness elective for medical students in Elk Grove, California, who reviewed the survey findings, agreed that many medical students are becoming overwhelmed.
“The expanding demands on students to learn basic medicine, do research and learn cultural competency is too much for many students in the typical four-year curriculum of medical schools,” he told Fox News Digital.
Fifty-four percent of students have concerns about the toll that a medical or nursing career might take on their mental well-being.
Medical education leaders have taken notice, Ripp added.
He said many schools are creating “well-being leaders,” such as chief wellness officers, to help foster a culture that sets students and physicians up for success and makes them feel valued.
Feelings don’t always lead to action
Although many students may have second thoughts about medical school, “these feelings don’t generally translate into action,” Geoffrey Young, PhD, senior director of Transforming the Health Care Workforce at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), acknowledged in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“AAMC data from a recent report show that medical school graduation rates for non-dual degree MD students remained stable from academic year 1998-1999 through academic year 2017-2018,” said the Virginia-based Young.
“Six years after matriculation, the average graduation rate was 96% of non-dual degree MD students.”
From 2019 to 2023, only 8% to 10% of second-year medical students and graduates who responded to an AAMC national survey said they would not or probably would not consider attending medical school again if given the choice, Young said.
“Over 85% would probably or definitely attend again, while roughly 5% to 10% responded with ‘neutral.’”
Many medical schools now implement wellness topics into their curriculum to promote students’ well-being.
These schools offer student support services, including academic and career counseling, financial aid and debt counseling, and counseling for mental health and well-being, Young said.
A fourth-year medical student in Northern California, who did not wish to disclose her name, shared her experience with Fox News Digital.
“After my internal medicine rotation, before I did surgery, I was the most depressed I have ever been and absolutely considered dropping out,” she said.
“Once I found surgery, I became obsessed and cannot imagine doing anything else — now I am excited for my career.”
“But once I found surgery,” she added, “I became obsessed and cannot imagine doing anything else — now I am excited for my career.”
Another student, who is in her second year of medical school in Northern California and also did not want to share her name, offered a similar perspective.
“The topic of burnout, mental health and finance has been brought up before in my friend circles, but none of them have ever expressed [the idea of] dropping out due to these concerns,” the student told Fox News Digital.
“I think I only know one classmate who isn’t interested in taking the ‘traditional’ route, so these stats are surprising to me.”
CDC launches wellness campaign
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) just launched a new campaign to address burnout among health care workers.
“Recent data has shown that health workers continue to struggle with mental health issues,” Dr. Deb Houry, chief medical officer and deputy director for Program and Science at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, told Fox News Digital.
“CDC has launched Impact Wellbeing to assist health leaders in making impactful decisions to support their workforce.”
As Young pointed out, the AAMC has also established a working group to raise awareness about the “culture and climate in medical education” and its impact on students’ mental health.
“The group is working toward providing an evidence-based approach for medical schools to better support the mental health and well-being of all students, with an emphasis on those who are underrepresented in medicine,” he said.
Ripp, too, said he is optimistic that students’ mental health concerns will be taken more seriously as the stigma decreases and people have greater access to supportive care.
“To the medical students of today who will become the physicians of tomorrow, I would send a measured though ultimately positive message — the health professions represent careers that are both enormously meaningful and impactful, and yet have the potential to take a toll on the clinician,” he said.
“Health professions represent careers that are both enormously meaningful and impactful, and yet have the potential to take a toll on the clinician.”
Added the second-year medical student in Northern California, “The vast majority of the people I’ve talked to understand the sacrifices that were made to get to their positions today — so even though there will be complaints, the sacrifices they made outweigh the stress they feel now.”