Send to

Choose Destination
Fam Med. 2018 Apr;50(4):296-299. doi: 10.22454/FamMed.2018.116755.

The Suffering Medical Students Attribute to Their Undergraduate Medical Education.

Author information

Tacoma Family Medicine, Tacoma, WA.
Department of Family and Community Medicine, Pennsylvania State University.
Departments of Humanities, English, and Medicine, Pennsylvania State University.
University of Washington, Seattle, WA.



The purpose of this study was to explore medical student perceptions of their medical school teaching and learning about human suffering and their recommendations for teaching about suffering. During data collection, students also shared their percerptions of personal suffering which they attributed to their medical education.


In April through May 2015, we conducted focus groups involving a total of 51 students representing all four classes at two US medical schools.


Some students in all groups reported suffering that they attributed to the experience of medical school and the culture of medical education. Sources of suffering included isolation, stoicism, confusion about personal/professional identity and role as medical students, and witnessing suffering in patients, families, and colleagues. Students described emotional distress, dehumanization, powerlessness, and disillusionment as negative consequences of their suffering. Reported means of adaptation to their suffering included distraction, emotional suppression, compartmentalization, and reframing. Students also identified activities that promoted well-being: small-group discussions, protected opportunities for venting, and guidance for sharing their experiences. They recommended integration of these strategies longitudinally throughout medical training.


Students reported suffering related to their medical education. They identified common causes of suffering, harmful consequences, and adaptive and supportive approaches to limit and/or ameliorate suffering. Understanding student suffering can complement efforts to reduce medical student distress and support well-being.

Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Society of Teachers of Family Medicine
Loading ...
Support Center