University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical College of Wisconsin

The Burden of Burnout and Importance of Mentorship for Preclinical Medical Students: Perspectives From a Public University Medical School

Angela Kristo, BS; Elizabeth M. Petty, MD

WMJ. 2024;123(3); published online in advance June 3, 2024.

Download full-text pdf. Download Appendices.


Background: Physician burnout often stems from burnout in medical students that began during the first year of medical education. Individual factors contributing to burnout must be considered within the demands of rigorous curricula and personal ambitions. This study focused on understanding how burnout is perceived by students and the impact mentorship had on its incidence and onset.

Methods: A literature review guided the development of a facilitator guide that outlined factors causing burnout. Preclinical medical students from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health were recruited for online focus groups. Responses were analyzed using hierarchical inductive coding, and identified themes were utilized to create a 2-part electronic Qualtrics survey focused on key aspects and timepoints of burnout. Part A of the survey was sent the summer after the first year of medical school (M1), and Part B was sent after the final course of the second year (M2).

Results: Nineteen percent of students agreed they entered medical school burnt out. The percentage of survey respondents who were not burnt out at each consecutive block in their first year decreased from 80% during the first block to 20% at the beginning of the last block. Focus group and survey results found that mentorship had positive effects on burnout, and students noted increased needs for mental health services.

Conclusions: Understanding key pressure points and essential resources for addressing student burnout allows for improved education and personal outcomes. Alleviating factors were strong mentorship, mental health resources, and streamlined faculty communication. Increasing burnout highlights the importance of interventions to reduce long-lasting effects on student performance and well-being.

Author Affiliations: University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH), Madison, Wisconsin (Kristo); Department of Pediatrics, UWSMPH, Madison, Wisconsin (Petty).
Corresponding Author: Angela Kristo, email
Funding/Support: Angela Kristo was supported by the Herman and Gwendolyn Shapiro Foundation through a summer research award, and Elizabeth M. Petty received partial salary support from the Kern National Network for Flourishing in Medicine to engage in quality improvement projects that positively impact the learning environment and promote student wellness.
Financial Disclosures: None declared.
Acknowledgements: The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Carolyn Swenson, MBA, Hassan Zagloul, and all members of the UWSMPH Strategic Improvement and Accreditation committee for their helpful comments and suggestions regarding the design and development of this quality improvement project. They wish to specifically thank Hassan Zagloul, M3, who assisted with the thematic analysis of focus group data.
Share WMJ