Project wants to prevent and combat burnout in medical and dental students

A team from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra (FMUC), led by Ana Telma Pereira, is developing a research project that aims to reduce burnout in medical and dental medicine students, through self-compassion.

The idea for the project, entitled “COMBURNOUT”, arose from the fact that “we verify, with our research, but also in contact with students, that medical and dental students have high levels of stress, anxiety and depression”, says Ana Telma Pereira.

In addition, stresses the psychologist and researcher at the Institute of Medical Psychology at FMUC, “we have found that certain personality traits, that is, the typical way of thinking, feeling and behaving, are more prevalent in these students, such as neuroticism and, mainly, perfectionism. These are risk factors for psychological suffering, as they reduce the emotional skills to deal with stress”.

According to the researcher, there are several risk factors that enhance Burnout in medical and dental medicine students, namely, for example, “the competitive environment, the high workload and the large amount of evaluations and subjects. Due to the combination of these factors, almost half of medical and dental students suffer from burnout – significantly more than students in other areas”.

“Due to the stigma, shame and perfectionism itself, most students do not seek help and the problem tends to worsen throughout their training and medical career”, points out Ana Telma Pereira.

Ana Telma Pereira

Burnout is characterized by several symptoms that occur following a prolonged period of intense stress related to work or studies, leading the person to feel completely exhausted, without emotional and physical resources.

In the case of medical students, warns the FMUC expert, “the consequences of burnout are severe: depression, suicidal ideation, use and abuse of alcohol and other psychoactive substances… This state of exhaustion and discouragement can lead them to neglect your health and that of others, as burnout increases the likelihood of medical errors and negligence”.

The project, which has 30,000 euros in funding from the “Academies of Knowledge” program of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, consists of two phases. In the first, the team will identify students at risk and then implement a group intervention program (mostly in online format), focused on promoting emotional skills, such as mindfulness and self-compassion – therapeutic approaches that teach people how to self-regulate their thoughts and emotions, with scientifically proven benefits.

In the second phase of the project, an experimental study will be carried out to test the effectiveness of this intervention, with the ultimate goal of providing a fully manual intervention program with good evidence of a positive impact on reducing burnout and psychological disturbance in medical students. and dental medicine.

“We are confident, because we have already proven, with recent studies, that if we foster self-compassion we can alleviate the stress and psychological suffering enhanced by perfectionism. Self-pity can be an antidote to this poison”, says the coordinator of “COMBURNOUT”, also referring that the project team is essentially made up of “psychologists with training and experience in interventions of this type, and young doctors, who are interns of psychiatry at CHUC and assistants at FMUC; they themselves went through these pressures not long ago”.

The “Academies of Knowledge” program of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, created in 2018, is designed to support projects that focus on promoting “skills so that today’s children and young people are able to face a rapidly changing future”.

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