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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Pre-health students suffer from stress, survey says

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Taylor Ferlita started her freshman year wanting to be in the pre-med track. But that soon changed when she dove deeper into the coursework.

The 20-year-old health science sophomore switched to the pre-physician assistant track because it was less rigorous than pre-med and suited her interests more, she said.

“Being pre-med specifically, that’s a lot of stress because there’s very little room for error,” Ferlita, a member of UF’s Pre-Med American Medical Student Association, said. “I didn’t completely drop the pre-health medical field; I just changed my career path.”

Ferlita said while she was pre-med, she experienced stress “pretty much always,” which is in line with 26 percent of pre-meds who surveyed that response from a survey by Kaplan about stress in the pre-health undergraduate track.

UF had 860 people apply to medical school from the 2019 to 2020 school year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, a non-profit association that conducts medical research. It was second in having the most medical school applicants from a list of universities provided by this association.

Kaplan had 414 responses to its survey from pre-med students nationwide who had prepared for the MCAT with Kaplan, said Jeffrey Koetje, Kaplan’s director for business and strategy for the pre-health program. 

It reported that 37 percent have seriously considered dropping their plans for a medical career due to stress, and 57 percent have seen alcohol or drug use as being a problem among their pre-med peers due to stress. 

“The stressors are the factors that contribute to student stress, which can range from the intense coursework and course load that pre-med students typically have to manage and balance to the competitiveness of entering into medical school,” Koetje said.

He said one of the common drugs medical students would use to “self-medicate” was Adderall, a medication used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, to help them study for exams, or they turn to other prescription drugs. However, the survey did not specifically ask the students which drugs they were using.

“It’s not as if pre-med students are expecting their journeys to be stress-free,” Koetje said. “Stress is normal and something to be expected, but when it becomes chronic and overwhelming, that’s when additional challenges can arise.”

Koetje said he recommended that students having trouble with their studies seek professional help and talk to their family and friends about it. He also said he hopes this survey reaches the medical education community to encourage students to seek this help.

“If they’re going to be there for us when we need them, when we are sick or when we are unwell, we need to be there for them now,” he said.

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Contact Stephany Matat at smatat@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @StephanyMatat. 

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