Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Psychosocial health risk factors and resources of medical students and physicians: a cross-sectional study

Edgar Voltmer1*, Ulf Kieschke2, David LB Schwappach3, Michael Wirsching4 and Claudia Spahn5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health and Behavioural Sciences, Friedensau Adventist University, An der Ihle 19, 39291 Friedensau, Germany

2 Institute of Psychology, Psychological Diagnostics, Campus Golm, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht Str. 24-25, Potsdam, Germany

3 Swiss Patient Safety Foundation, Asylstr. 41, Zürich, Switzerland

4 Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University of Freiburg, Hauptstr. 8, Freiburg, Germany

5 Institute for Musicians' Medicine, Medical School of the University of Freiburg, Breisacher Str. 60, Freiburg, Germany

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BMC Medical Education 2008, 8:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-46

Published: 2 October 2008



Epidemiological data indicate elevated psychosocial health risks for physicians, e. g., burnout, depression, marital disturbances, alcohol and substance abuse, and suicide. The purpose of this study was to identify psychosocial health resources and risk factors in profession-related behaviour and experience patterns of medical students and physicians that may serve as a basis for appropriate health promoting interventions.


The questionnaire -Related Behaviour and Experience "Work administered in cross-sectional surveys to students in the first (n = 475) and in the fifth year of studies (n = 355) in required courses at three German universities and to physicians in early professional life in the vicinity of these universities (n = 381).


Scores reflecting a healthy behaviour pattern were less likely in physicians (16.7%) compared to 5th year (26.0%) and 1st year students (35.1%) while scores representing unambitious and resigned patterns were more common among physicians (43.4% vs. 24.4% vs. 41.0% and 27.3% vs. 17.2% vs. 23.3 respectively). Female and male responders differed in the domains professional commitment, resistance to stress and emotional well-being. Female physicians on average scored higher in the dimensions resignation tendencies, satisfaction with life and experience of social support, and lower in career ambition.


The results show distinct psychosocial stress patterns among medical students and physicians. Health promotion and prevention of psychosocial symptoms and impairments should be integrated as a required part of the medical curriculum and be considered an important issue during the further training of physicians.