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Educ Health (Abingdon). 2019 Jan-Apr;32(1):25-32. doi: 10.4103/efh.EfH_237_17.

Medical student well-being and lifelong learning: A motivational perspective.

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Departments of Family Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Department of Surgery, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.



Medical school poses many pressures and challenges for individuals aspiring to health careers. Only some students, however, experience high stress and exhaustion, whereas others adaptively respond to schooling demands and engage in lifelong learning practices. By drawing on three motivation theories - self-determination theory, self-theories of ability, and achievement goal theory - this study examined the relations among motivational constructs, stress, exhaustion, and lifelong learning in medical students.


All medical students in a 4-year program were invited to complete a questionnaire containing measures of psychological need satisfaction, self-theories of ability, achievement goals, stress, exhaustion, lifelong learning, and background characteristics. Using structural equation modeling, we tested a structural model that combined the three motivation theories to explain stress, exhaustion, and lifelong learning in medical students.


A total of 267 medical students participated in the study (response rate 42%). The results largely confirmed the hypothesized relations, revealing that unmet psychological needs and a fixed mind-set were associated with maladaptive cognitions (i.e., the pursuit of avoidance goals) and psychological distress (i.e., high stress and exhaustion). In contrast, psychological need satisfaction and a growth mind-set had distinct pathways to beneficial cognitions (i.e., mastery approach goals) and lifelong learning practices in medical students.


Adaptive motivations, cultivated through personal and environmental factors, may help to protect medical students from psychological distress and enhance their growth as lifelong learners. Understanding the mechanisms and pathways to desirable and undesirable outcomes in medical students is critical for creating learning environments that will serve these students well.


Lifelong learning; medical students; motivation theory; well-being

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