Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
Healio Special Report: Health Care and Politics
December 10, 2019
2 min read
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News about Trump negatively impacts medical interns’ moods

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Donald Trump 2018
Donald J. Trump

Heavy workloads, medical errors and sleep deprivation are recognized factors that can affect the mental health of training physicians. Recently, however, researchers discovered that political events could sour the mood of young doctors and have “professional consequences.”

Among 17 major events, the election and inauguration of President Donald J. Trump caused the greatest mood declines among medical interns, according to findings published in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Elena Frank, PhD, study director at the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan, and colleagues analyzed the mood scores of 2,345 first-year medical interns using an app. The scores, based on a scale of 1 to 10, were reviewed for 4 weeks leading up to and 1 week after nine political events — including attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation — and eight nonpolitical events, such as the California wildfires and a mass shooting at a Florida school.

With the start of internship duties, the mean decline in mood scores for interns was –0.3 (95% CI, –0.33 to –0.27). The decline was similar in magnitude to those observed after the 2016 presidential election (–0.32; 95% CI, –0.45 to –0.19) and inauguration the following January (mean mood change = –0.25; 95% CI, –0.37 to –0.12). Women experienced greater declines in mood than men after both events. Six of the nine political events spurred statistically significantly changes in mood, whereas none of the nonpolitical events caused a significant decline in mood.

The researchers noted that “long-term exposure to emotionally arousing news can also have psychological implications” for a population that is already at increased risk for stress and mental health problems.

“These findings signal that politics and medicine may interact in strong ways in the current era of medicine and that we should carefully consider their implications for young physicians and their patients,” Frank and colleagues concluded.

The Christmas issue of The BMJ often includes “light-hearted fare and satire,” but the publication says on its website that it adheres “to the same high standards of novelty, methodological rigor, reporting transparency, and readability” that apply to its regular issue. For example, in 2017, researchers explored whether men are more likely than women to exaggerate complaints about influenza infection — a phenomenon also known as “man flu." – by Janel Miller

Disclosures: Frank reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.