Perceived stress experienced by undergraduate healthcare professional students throughout their degree

Casey, Rachel, O'Doherty, Julia, Murphy, Kevin D. and Sahm, Laura J. (2020) Perceived stress experienced by undergraduate healthcare professional students throughout their degree. p. 1.


Rationale: Stress can be a part of third level education and experienced by undergraduate students across a range of degree courses. Stress can be positive in stimulating optimum performance. However, excessive stress leads to distress which is correlated with decreased health related quality of life (1). The aim of this research study is to investigate the causes of stress among undergraduate healthcare professional students in University College Cork (UCC) and to characterise the nature of the stress factors. Methods: All undergraduate students (excluding 1st year students) enrolled in degree courses in the College of Medicine and Health in UCC (Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery (NM), Occupational Therapy (OT), Pharmacy, Public Health Sciences, and Speech and Language Therapy (SLT)) were sent an email inviting them to participate in an anonymous online survey. The survey comprised two parts: (i) the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) (2), which measures the perception of stress on a scale between 0 and 40, and (ii) a customised Academic Stress Factors survey, in which students gave a rating between 1 (little) and 5 (extreme) of how much stress each factor caused. Data were analysed using IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 26.0. (Armonk, NY: IBM Corporation). Findings: Of the 227 responses received (88.1% female); the majority were from NM students (46; 20.3%) while both OT and SLT had the fewest at 15 (6.6%) responses each. The mean PSS score for the total cohort was 21.3 with medical students reporting the highest mean score (24.5), signifying higher perceived stress and OT having the lowest mean score (19.0). The distribution of PSS scores did not vary significantly across degree courses, (F=1.555, p=0.162) gender, (t=-1.241, p=0.216) or year of study (F=0.210, p=0.811). ‘End of module examinations’, ‘overall academic workload’, and ‘oral presentations’ were the reasons associated with the highest average scores for causing stress. Conclusion: Stress affects students from all healthcare degree courses within the College of Medicines and Health. This study has identified the areas that seem to contribute most to the perceived stress experienced by students and therefore may signpost where UCC can act to support students.

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