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Medical students must be given better mental health support to prepare them for emotional toll of career in the NHS, say leading doctors

The British Medical Association has today called for better mental health support for medical students, and for universities to recognise the unique pressures faced by those preparing for a career in the health service.

At the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Brighton, members passed a motion1 calling for more research into the types of mental health issues experienced by medical students and to improve services available to them. The motion further asks that mental health awareness and promotion of self-care practices are made a core part of the curriculum, and that student health services should provide extended opening hours for those studying medicine, who are often unable to comply with a 9-to-5 timetable.

Mita Dhullipala, BMA medical students committee co-chair, said:

“We know that poor mental health is a serious and widespread problem among medical students, and passing this motion marks a positive step that our concerns are being recognised by the profession more widely. 

“The statistics on this issue are shocking: while Universities UK recently reported2 a fivefold increase in the number of students reporting mental health conditions in the last decade, other research has shown that around a third of those studying medicine worldwide suffer from depression, while one in 10 have experienced suicidal thoughts3

“There are many reasons why medical students are at particular risk of developing mental health problems. While stress, sleep deprivation, academic struggles and being far from home may all trigger feelings of anxiety and depression among all university students, medicine presents its own unique challenges that can have further detrimental effects on an individual’s mental health. 

“Courses are long, competitive and incredibly expensive, and students often find themselves in traumatic clinical situations that they may be unprepared for. While medicine is a testing career, the realities of which prospective doctors should not be sheltered from, they must be supported as they acclimatise to the emotional toll of working in the health service.

“If we are to improve the mental health and wellbeing of medical students, then both educators and policy-makers must first recognise these unique pressures, and act to ensure proper support is there.

“Furthermore, with study worries intrinsically linked to poor mental health, those providing pastoral support and advice at university must not be the same staff assessing academic performance and making decisions over students’ future progression.

“Overall, however, we need a culture change. Medical students and doctors may be excellent at caring for patients with a variety of physical and mental health conditions, but they now need to learn to look after each other too.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The full wording of the motion is as below:
    That this meeting notes there is a need for increased recognition, publicity and support for the mental health needs of medical students. This conference calls for the BMA to:- 
    i) continue to research the types of mental health issues being experienced by students so support can be provided to meet the students’ needs; 
    ii) review current mental health support provided by medical schools, particularly noting any disparities in support offered between medical schools; 
    iii) campaign to make mental health awareness and promotion of self-care practices a core part of the medical education curriculum; 
    iv) campaign for clinical facilitators to receive basic training in order to support medical students with mental health difficulties; 
    v) campaign for increased access to personal tutoring and high quality psychological support at medical schools and in hospitals; 
    vi) lobby student health services to provide extended opening hours for medical students that are not able to comply with a 9 to 5 timetable.
  2. See ‘Minding our future: starting a conversation about the support of student mental health’.
  3. See ‘Medical students and suicide’, Student BMJ, May 2017.
  4. The BMA wellbeing support service is a 24 hour confidential support line for doctors and medical students with immediate access to trained counsellors. Find more information here.

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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