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Keywords:

  • anxiety;
  • obsessions;
  • compulsions;
  • obsessionality;
  • factor analysis;
  • medical students;
  • performance

Abstract

Medical students represent a highly educated population under significant pressures. During the transition to clinical settings in the third year, they may experience a loss of external control and may counter this with an increase in obsessionality and/or other anxiety symptoms. Our study examines the phenomenology of obsessive–compulsive and other anxiety symptoms in medical students at two U.S. medical schools and relates these symptoms to self-perception of performance. Subjects anonymously completed a battery of questionnaires regarding obsessive–compulsive symptoms, attentional problems, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and perceived performance in medical school. A factor analysis of obsessional symptoms showed four primary factors: checking/doubts, contamination, long time/detail, and unpleasant thoughts/worries. These four factors were similar to those found among college students and other nonclinical populations. Anxiety, attentional, and depressive symptoms were highest in the third-year medical students. In contrast, obsessional symptoms were highest in the first-year students and lower for subsequent years. Perceived performance was not significantly correlated with obsessionality, although lower perceived performance was associated with higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Students with lower perceived performance in medical school were significantly more likely to be female, depressed, or older. The progressive decrease in number of obsessional symptoms across years and the lack of correlation with perceived performance suggest that these symptoms may be developmentally appropriate, and perhaps adaptive. In contrast, other anxiety symptoms appear to be maladaptive responses to external stressors. Depression and Anxiety 24:103–111, 2007. Published 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.