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Psychooncology. 2011 Feb;20(2):219-23. doi: 10.1002/pon.1751.

Coping with cancer: a brief report on stress and coping strategies in medical students dealing with cancer patients.

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Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gloucestershire, UK.



This pilot study explored factors associated with stress in medical students during their initial clinical contact with cancer patients, in particular identifying stress levels and coping strategies used.


A total of 80 medical students at The University of Birmingham Medical School, UK, completed retrospective self-report questionnaires measuring socio-demographics, potential stressors and coping strategies (using the Brief COPE inventory). Statistical analysis followed data collection.


Of all socio-demographic categories, female gender correlated with the highest stress score (p<0.05). The most stressful situations reported related to the patient's condition, the biopsychosocial effects of the cancer on the patient and his/her family, and breaking bad news. A combination of problem- and emotion-focussed strategies were used to manage stress; and the extent of their usage was significantly related to individual stress levels (p<0.01) in both instances.


Medical students in an oncology setting experience moderate stress and utilise a combination of problem- and emotion-focussed coping strategies to combat this stress. A greater use of both coping strategies was seen in students experiencing higher levels of stress. This may suggest a relative lack of effective coping skills. In light of this, the implementation of coping strategy training as a part of the medical course and/or support groups may be beneficial.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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