Many studies document the high prevalence of burnout among medical students. This syndrome may lead to depression, suicidal ideation, and increased academic dropout. However, there is a scarcity of evidence-based interventions to prevent it. The aim of this longitudinal study was to identify factors that may reduce students’ burnout and foster their well-being, and upon which effective interventions can be developed.
A total of 1,117 medical students from eight Chilean universities were asked to complete a set of validated scales in 2015 and 2 years later, in 2017. The measures included distress, burnout, positive mental health, academic engagement, and dispositional mindfulness. Using logistic regressions and a two-wave latent change score model, the predictive power of these variables on burnout and flourishing (an optimal state of mental health) was studied, as well as their covariance across time.
In total, 639 (57.2%) students answered the questionnaires in T1 and T2; 54.4% reported burnout in T1 and 56.2% in T2. Levels of dispositional mindfulness (the ability to pay attention to one’s sensations, thoughts, and emotions in everyday life) predicted lower probabilities of burning out at 2 years, whereas having experienced burnout in T1 doubled these odds. Dispositional mindfulness, academic engagement, and flourishing at T1 predicted greater odds of flourishing 2 years later, while depression decreased these odds.
Dispositional mindfulness was the most powerful predictive factor of students’ burnout and flourishing. As dispositional mindfulness can be nurtured through practice, incorporating mindfulness training into undergraduate medical programs may help reduce burnout and promote students’ well-being as health professionals.