First year medical students' perceptions of stress and support: a comparison between reformed and traditional track curricula


Dr Claudia Kiessling, Reformstudiengang Medizin, Charité Medical Faculty, Humboldt University Berlin, Schumannstrasse 20/21, D-10117 Berlin, Germany. Tel: 00 49 30 4505 76013; Fax: 00 49 30 4505 76952; E-mail:


Background  The authors hypothesised that medical schools need to support their students by identifying the challenges inherent in the demanding study of medicine, especially during the transitional phase at the beginning of study. Therefore, a study was conducted to evaluate Year 1 students' perceptions on how well 2 different programmes – a reformed and a traditional programme – helped students make a good start to their studies.

Design  Cross-sectional survey.

Method and Participants  A questionnaire was distributed to Year 1 medical students on reformed (RT) and traditional track (TT) curricula. Its 5 subscales measured perceived stress and support.

Result  A total of 155 students (70% of the year group) responded. Significant differences between groups appeared in 4 of the 5 subscales. Students on the RT felt more supported than students on the TT in terms of study conditions, social support at university, perceptions of their own attitudes and competencies, and living conditions. No differences in perceptions of social support outside university were apparent.

Conclusion  Key aspects that were perceived as supportive included good contact with fellow students and teachers, high quality of courses, and a curriculum that fulfilled students' expectations and made sense to them. In identifying particular features that led to the positive judgement of the RT, the authors hypothesised that the following aspects were crucial: the specific orientation unit in the first 2 weeks, the problem-based learning workshop, the coursebooks and extracurricular social activities.