Summary: 11/1/08 10:58 AMDoctor and Patient - Medical Student Burnout and the Challenge to Patient Care - NYTimes.com
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October 31, 2008
DOCTOR AND PATIENT
Medical Student Burnout and the Challenge to Patient Care
By PAULINE W. CHEN, M.D.
Not too long ago, I read a paper titled "Burnout and Suicidal Ideation Among U.S. Medical
Students" in The Annals of Internal Medicine. It brought back a flood of memories.
Medical school was not easy for me. I knew that I wanted to become a doctor to help people, but I
had given little thought to the process. I was poorly prepared for many things: the pressure to
excel in ways that seemed so far from caring for people; rapidly mounting debts I signed off on
every semester; a roller coaster existence from chronic lack of sleep; hazing from the more
experienced students and residents; and the realities of patient suffering despite my best efforts.
Even surgical residency, despite the relentlessly long hours, seemed so much closer to what I
wanted to do.
Some of my professors tried to "humanize" the process. They invited us to dinner in their homes,
supported our extracurricular efforts to set up health screening clinics in low-income
neighborhoods, and tried to make our basic science courses more relevant to working with
patients. But sitting where I am now, as someone who teaches medical students and who loves
helping others as a doctor, I can understand the challenge they faced. Given the fire hose of