Grant awarded by the Scottish Medical Education Research Consortium (SMERC)

We are delighted to have received a grant for just under £10,000 to progress the work on the link between different types of stressors and identity in the medical context into 2017. The project title is: Identity-potent stressors: The interplay of professional (social) identity and specific work-related stressors; and the implications for wellbeing of doctors and medical trainees.

Continuing the general theme of our work we argue that existing research tends to consider stress in an indiscriminate way and many studies only use generic stress measures that cannot distinguish the different types and experience of stress. We believe that some stressors may be more closely tied to identity and that in the case of medical practice this may make an important difference in how stress is experienced, but also how people cope with it.

The SMERC grant allows us to expand our current pilot project in two ways:

We plan to start recruiting for these studies between now and early 2017. We hope to run both studies in the UK and Australia and perhaps beyond. We are grateful to the SMERC reviewers for both positive and very practical feedback on the project.

To work on the expanded project we are delighted to involve a great team of local and international researchers:

  • Kenneth I Mavor, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews.
  • Ashley Dennis, Centre for Medical Education, University of Dundee.
  • Gozde Ozakinci, School of Medicine, University of St Andrews.
  • Anita Laidlaw, School of Medicine, University of St Andrews.
  • Kathleen G McNeill, Registrar Clinical Psychologist /Research Associate, Australian National University.
  • Erin O’Reilly, Paediatric Registrar, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.
  • Caoimhe Ryan, Research Fellow, University of St Andrews.

Some background to the research can be found below.

Throughout their working lives a doctor’s professional identity is a central and cherished part of their sense of self. At the same time, from their days as medical students, doctors face extraordinary stress. There is widespread concern about the levels of stress experienced and broad agreement that there is a pressing need to develop meaningful solutions.  We argue here that stress and professional identity (as a form of social identity) are linked in important ways that impact on how we treat the crisis in the wellbeing of doctors and medical students.

The high prevalence of stress, depression, and burnout among both medical students and doctors relative to the general population is well-documented. Within these prevalence studies, however, scant attention is paid to psychological factors that might lead to improved wellbeing and resilience. Existing prevalence research makes heavy use of very generic stress measures. Items are often of the form: “In the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?” These measures are only designed to capture “non-specific psychological distress”. Such studies are not able to unpack the connections between the specific nature of the stress, implications for identity, and differential impacts on wellbeing.

which stressors might have implications for the experience of professional identity…

One of our goals then for this project is to use a mixture of methods (interviews and online diary study) to explore what medical specialists, trainees and junior staff actually experience and to pinpoint which stressors might have implications for their experience of professional identity.  We believe that a better understanding of this link will be a good guide when seeking to improve wellbeing in the workforce.

If you are a medical specialist or a trainee/junior doctor, we would really value your participation in the study, wherever you are in the world!  You can show your interest in participation by signing up here.