The bizarre psychological syndrome that affects only medical students

Illustration for article titled The bizarre psychological syndrome that affects only medical students

Medical Student Syndrome is a psychological disorder that's endemic to, well, medical students. It's when you become convinced that you have whatever terrible disease that you're studying.


You're in a new area, in a high-pressure situation, among strangers, and have likely taken on a new and exciting financial burden. You eat badly, sleep badly, and spend your time cramming your head full of horrible diseases that happened to unsuspecting people. This is not a recipe for a calm response to every new pang and weird rash. It's a recipe for Medical Student Syndrome. And here I thought the most dangerous mental illnesses suffered by medical students were the tendency to wear their school sweatshirts at all times and an inability to befriend anyone but other medical students.

The health problems that MSS sufferers imagine can be anything, from Lou Gehrig's disease to appendicitis. Appendicitis, apparently, is one of the more common complaints. Students learn, for the first time, the exact location of the appendix and suddenly an innocent stomach pain will turn into an inflamed appendix. It seems that more involved conditions would be more difficult to identify. But if the first symptoms of a condition are, for example, an itch bordering on pain, a persistent tremor, and occasional spasm, it doesn't take much concentration to make them happen in any part of the body one concentrates on. Try not to feel an itch in your right-hand little finger right now.

There are a few studies on MSS. Some suggest that the impact of the disease is exaggerated. Law students also tend towards hypochondria. It could just be a symptom of young people under pressure. Psychology students tend to become more sure of themselves, mentally, but also more likely to diagnose the people around them - especially family members. That must be a real treat for everybody.

Primarily, medical schools are concerned with finding a way for students to get timely medical advice about their fears. Some encourage students to write about their worries in their notes and review them. Others just make sure that campus health facilities are open. As for the general public, who have been suffering from WebMD hypochondria for some time, it's nice to know that the professionals start out by being just as jumpy as we are.

Image: US Navy

Via NCBI, Taylor Francis Online, and The Psychologist.




I'd rather have MSS than MSSS (medical student spouse syndrome), in which a medical student or resident (my wife) has an iron immune system, gets a cold and is sick for maybe an hour, but their spouse (me) becomes sick as a dog from whatever franken-virus she carried home from the hospital! At least that's what seems to happen to me most years.