Student burnout and facing future challenges

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Our students during a send-off activity for our medical board examinees. 2016, Manila, Philippines.

In the medical school I work in, I serve as coordinator for a course in family and community medicine for second year medical students. As part of our culminating activity, I asked them to stage a short skit on what they learned from our course.

The activity divided the class into five groups, each with its own assigned topic. The topics were personal wellness, health promotion, occupational health, health systems and global health; and environmental and planetary health. Since the course had two sections, I had the privilege of watching ten skits. All of them were equally entertaining and it was such a gratifying experience watching them and seeing that their semester with us was well-spent.

At the same time, there was one glaring similarity in the two personal wellness skits. Both featured a scene in which an emotionally distraught medical student was seeking consult due to increased stress at school.

This leads me to ask this question: are we pushing our students too hard?

On one hand, I see my colleagues in medical education insisting on time-tested strategies for teaching school subjects, which reinforce a culture of respect and discipline, and help acclimatize future health professionals with the challenges that await them in their careers. An important aspect of this part of the picture, however, is the increasing popularity of learner-centric strategies, such as blended learning and the flipped classroom, which allow the student to take responsibility for their learning.

On the other hand, I see the current generation of students grappling to make sense of the vast and fast information available in their respective fields of study. While it may be argued that students nowadays have it easier with regard to access to information, the amount required for uptake has certainly risen up.

Unfortunately, we still have 24 hours everyday, ever since. Thus, I think that more information needs to be taken up with the same amount of time.

The demands of a health professional have not changed either. More than the physical and intellectual capacity required, the health profession demands emotional skills that allow for continued service to the needy and infirm, regardless of one’s level of fatigue, but also within one’s capacity and professional boundaries.

Actually, I’d say, with faster ways of communicating in this day and age, the demands of the health profession have intensified even more. We have discussed previously how this can degenerate into cyberbullying, fake news and other unfortunate uses of social media and the Internet.

Definitely, these are increasingly complex challenges that our students need to prepare for, but strategies to prepare for them need to be tempered with the need to keep our students emotionally and psychologically well in the first place. But how?

This leads me to ask these questions for our next tweetchat:

T1. What factors increase burnout among students of health professions?

T2. What career-related challenges await students in their future professional life?

T3. How can we prevent burnout while preparing students for future career challenges?

Join us this Saturday on Twitter as #HealthXPh discusses student burnout and facing future challenges, 9PM Philippine Time/9AM US Eastern Standard Time.