Medical Student Syndrome

Being a medical student is hard work, and it takes a lot of hard work to get there. We understand that it’s a stressful thing to be doing, and you learn about hundreds of different diseases, illnesses and conditions that people can be suffering from. One thing which is completely unique to those studying medicine, and is actually a result of the intensity of study, is medical student syndrome.


A well documented psychological condition, medical student syndrome is a condition reported by those who study medicine, and who perceive themselves to have an illness that they are studying. Sometimes referred to as a type of hypochondria (an excessive worry about having a serious illness), and sometimes referred to as nosophobia (an irrational fear of contracting a disease), it’s common for medical students to think that they have the frightening diseases that pop up in their text books.


The extensive knowledge of symptoms of illness and disease means that medical students can recognise a pain not only as a pain, but a symptom of something far more serious. This can get even worse when students start working in hospitals during their foundation years (which you can find out more about here); this is when students actually see real people with these conditions, they talk to them and discuss how they feel, their symptoms and can watch an improvement or a deterioration in health.


In a similar way, medical students are likely to think that a patient has a far more serious and unusual problem than they really do. If a list of symptoms points to something common and something rare, the medical student is more likely to test for the more unusual illness. It’s worth remembering that common conditions are common for a reason – lots of people have them. Most of the time, (although obviously not always) the patient will be suffering from the more common condition.


The reason that medical students often think that they could be suffering from a disease is that they do not often have the healthiest lifestyles. You’re a student, you eat rubbish food, drink Red Bull to get you through assignments, lose sleep and fill your head with the most horrible of diseases that happen to undeserving, unsuspecting people. If you have a particularly bad hangover, or a migraine or a cold, it’s easy to have an irrational response to it with so much knowledge of what could, but probably wont, happen. Medical students know for the first time, the exact location of the appendix; suddenly an innocent stomach cramp comes along and you’re worried that your appendix is about to burst.


Between 70% – 80% of medical students report experiencing medical student syndrome at some point during their studies. They’re also far more likely to diagnose a family member or a friend with impending doom. However, many people in the general public have been attempting to self-diagnose since the rise of the internet and symptom checkers, often resulting in the same, irrational response. Medical student syndrome is something that you should be aware of, but it won’t last forever, and the more conscious you are of it, the more likely you are to have rational thoughts when you are unwell.