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Is Student Stress Related to Personality or Learning Environment in a Physician Assistant Program?

Wardley, C. Sonia, MA; Applegate, E. Brooks, PhD; Almaleki, A. Deyab, PhD; Van Rhee, James A., MS, PA-C

The Journal of Physician Assistant Education: March 2019 - Volume 30 - Issue 1 - p 9–19
doi: 10.1097/JPA.0000000000000241
Research Article

Purpose The purpose of this research was to study the impact of students' personalities and 2 different learning environments—lecture-based learning (LBL) and problem-based learning (PBL)—on the stress perceived by 5 cohorts of physician assistant (PA) students.

Methods Students rated their stress related to family obligations, financial concerns, schoolwork, relocation, and overall stress on 6 occasions over the course of the 2-year program. Personalities of students were assessed using the California Psychological Inventory 7 months into the program. Students' expectations and observations of their learning environments were measured using the PA School Learning Environment Survey at the beginning and end of the didactic year.

Results Personalities of LBL and PBL students were very similar, but LBL students who scored higher on the Independence concept were less stressed about their schoolwork. The LBL students, in general, were more discontented with their learning environment, but this finding was not related to higher schoolwork-related stress. In contrast, PBL students' personalities were not related to stress, and PBL students also rated some dimensions of their learning environment higher than they had expected. However, those PBL students who rated the PBL environment less favorably also reported higher schoolwork-related stress.

Conclusions High stress perceived by LBL students was related to some personality concepts but not to the students' learning environment, despite their overall disappointment with that environment. The PBL students were more stressed by schoolwork, although their stress was not related to personality. Problem-based learning students, except for those most highly stressed, tended to rate their learning environment more favorably.

C. Sonia Wardley, MA, is an adjunct associate professor in the Physician Assistant Department at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

E. Brooks Applegate, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Education Leadership, Research, and Technology at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

A. Deyab Almaleki, PhD, is an assistant professor of Evaluation Measurement and Research at Umm-Al Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

James A. Van Rhee, MS, PA-C, is the director and an associate professor for the Physician Assistant Online Program at the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.

Correspondence should be addressed to: C. Sonia Wardley, MA, Physician Assistant Department, Western Michigan University, 1903 West Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5254. Telephone: (269) 387-5311; Email:

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Copyright © 2019 Physician Assistant Education Association
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