The years spent in acquiring medical education is considered a stressful period in the life of many students. Students whose mental health deteriorates during this long period of study are less likely to become empathic and productive physicians. In addition to other specific stressors, academic examinations seem to further induce medical school-related stress and anxiety. Combined group and individual resource-oriented coaching early in medical education might reduce examination-related stress and anxiety and, consequently, enhance academic performance. Good quality evidence, however, remains scarce. In this study, therefore, we explored the question of whether coaching affects examination-related stress and health in medical students.
We conducted a randomized controlled trial. Students who registered for the first medical academic examination in August 2014 at the University of Lübeck were recruited and randomized into three groups. The intervention groups 1 and 2 received a 1-hour psychoeducative seminar. Group 1 additionally received two 1-hour sessions of individual coaching during examination preparation. Group 3 served as a control group. We compared changes in self-rated general health (measured by a single item), anxiety and depression (measured by the hospital anxiety and depression scale), as well as medical school stress (measured by the perceived medical school stress instrument). In order to further investigate the influence of group allocation on perceived medical school stress, we conducted a linear regression analysis.
We saw a significant deterioration of general health and an increase in anxiety and depression scores in medical students while preparing for an examination. We found a small, but statistically significant, effect of group allocation on the development of perceived medical school stress. However, we could not differentiate between the effects of group coaching only and group coaching in combination with two sessions of individual coaching.
The health of medical students deteriorated while preparing for an examination. Short-term resource-oriented coaching might be an effective means of reducing medical school stress in candidates preparing for an examination.