• Why students drop out of medical school

    Financial issues followed by depression and doubts about career path are the most likely reason medical students withdraw from study or consider halting their studies, Australian research has found.

    A total of 475 Graduate Medical Program students from the University of Sydney completed an anonymous online survey and their responses to open-ended questions were analysed thematically.

    Among the 20% of respondents who said they had seriously considered dropping out in the past year, the most commonly reported themes included:

    • Financial problems (29%)
    • Doubts as to whether medicine was the right vocation (17%)
    • Depression (15%)


    Barriers to seeking treatment

    Although things are changing, there is an enduring stigma around mental health and privacy concerns are another barrier to seeking help. Some students are scared to seek help because of mandatory reporting obligations.

    “Privacy is definitely a deterrent for many,” Jen McAuliffe, former ASAC Chair says.

    “Not just for the fear of repercussions such as Mandatory Reporting, but also because of blurred relationships with the School of Medicine staff.

    At many universities, the same people you would speak to about mental health or private concerns are the same people that mark you in OSCEs and written exams,” she says.

    “There is no separation, and therefore there is concern that there can be prejudice. Some have found that there is no one they feel comfortable talking to about their problems.”

    Proposed solutions

    The study participants suggested several solutions including employing designated mental health staff, creating peer support groups, routine use of screening tools, increasing the range of services and reviewing their location. Participants also wanted assistance with finances and accommodation and changes to course structure to allow for a better lifestyle balance.

    Another possible solution is that the medical schools facilitate access to local GPs who bulkbill students and understands the unique stresses medical students face.

    “It takes quite a bit of courage and strength to seek help in the first place, to then have people down play your stresses, tell you that you work too hard or take uni too seriously can create barriers and prevent people seeking help in the future. It is much more helpful to speak to someone who can understand your position,” she says.