The mental and physical health care issues of medical students are increasingly recognized as both prevalent and complex. Emotional distress, symptoms of mental illness, and maladaptive substance use are widespread and may often be driven by training-related stressors. The data suggest that nearly all medical students identify physical health concerns as well. The care of medical students as patients is complex because of problems associated with the stigma of various illnesses and the dual role of trainee and patient in medical school. A written confidential survey assessed students longitudinally near the end of their first and third years of training regarding their perceived health care needs, health concerns, attitudes toward care, access to services, and care-seeking practices (161 items). A subset of students (n = 33) were reassessed 1 month after the second survey to measure reliability. McNemar's chi-square (chi2) tests, repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), and K and Pearson correlations were used to evaluate outcomes. Almost all students reported health care needs during both training phases, and their mental and physical health concerns were stable over time. However, the preference for obtaining health care at a site other than their training institution and concerns about confidentiality increased, although students were marginally more likely to obtain care at their medical school during clinical versus preclinical training. The students' tendency to seek informal care from colleagues remained consistent, as did their high level of concern about professional jeopardy relating to personal health issues. Their tendency to accept the dual patient-student role depended on the particular health care issue; they expressed a strong tendency to protect other students' confidentiality, even in cases of potential significant impairment. Responses were reliable across a 1-month retest interval. We conclude that medical students' perspectives on their mental and physical health care across the transition from preclinical to clinical training reveal the importance of pursuing, not neglecting, a number of clinical and educational initiatives. Through their specialized expertise, psychiatrists may help to ensure sound mental and physical health care for the more than 69,000 medical students in training in this country.
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View details for PubMedID 10929800