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Efficacy of a Brief Screening Tool to Identify Medical Students in Distress

Dyrbye, Liselotte N. MD, MHPE; Schwartz, Alan PhD; Downing, Steven M. PhD; Szydlo, Daniel W.; Sloan, Jeff A. PhD; Shanafelt, Tait D. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31821da615
Well-Being of Students

Purpose: To determine whether the Medical Student Well-Being Index (MSWBI) can serve as a brief assessment tool to identify medical students in severe psychological distress.

Method: The authors used data from 2,248 medical students at seven U.S. medical schools who responded to a 2007 survey to explore the accuracy of the MSWBI in identifying medical students with three outcomes: low mental quality of life (QOL; defined by having a Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form Health Survey mental component summary score ≥1/2 standard deviation below that of the age- and gender-matched population norm), suicidal ideation, or serious thoughts of dropping out. The authors confirmed their analyses using data from a separate sample of 2,682 students evaluated in 2009.

Results: Students with low mental QOL, suicidal ideation, or serious thoughts of dropping out were more likely to endorse each individual MSWBI item and a greater number of total items than were students without such distress (all P < .001). The likelihood ratio for low mental QOL among students with MSWBI scores <4 was 0.47 as compared with 4.79 for those with scores ≥4. At an MSWBI threshold score of ≥4, the MSWBI's sensitivity and specificity for identifying students with low mental QOL or recent suicidal ideation/serious thoughts of dropping out were both ≥90%. On multivariable logistic regression, all MSWBI items were independently associated with at least one outcome.

Conclusions: The MSWBI is a useful brief screening tool to help identify students with severe distress.

Dr. Dyrbye is associate professor of medicine, Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota.

Dr. Schwartz is associate professor, Department of Medical Education, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. Downing is associate professor of medical education, Department of Medical Education, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois.

Mr. Szydlo was a statistician, Department of Health Sciences Research, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, at the time of the study. He is now a graduate student, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Sloan is professor of oncology, Department of Health Sciences Research, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

Dr. Shanafelt is associate professor of medicine, Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Dyrbye, 200 First Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905; telephone: (507) 284-2511; fax: (507) 266-2297; e-mail: dyrbye.liselotte@mayo.edu.

First published online June 3, 2011.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at http://links.lww.com/ACADMED/A52.

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges