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Nancy Schimelpfening

More Doctors Become Depressed During Internship

By April 9, 2010

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According to a report on the Archives of General Psychiatry website, the percentage of doctors who meet the criteria for depression appears to increase significantly during medical internship.

Srijan Sen, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, and his colleagues studied 740 interns entering residency programs in 13 U.S. hospitals in either 2007 or 2008. Participants completed an online survey to assess their depression symptoms, personal and medical evaluation factors and several psychological measures. Followup surveys were completed at three, six, nine and 12 months regarding depression symptoms and life stresses, including the stresses associated with their internship. Genetic analysis of saliva samples was also performed for 63% of the group.

The researchers found that on the average depression scores increased during internship, with those meeting the criteria for depression increasing from 3.9% to 25.7%.

Factors that were associated with increased depression symptoms included being female, U.S. medical education, difficult early family environment, a history of depression, increased work hours, perceived medical errors and stressful life events. Medical specialty and age, however, were not associated with increased depression.

The researchers also looked at whether research subjects having a less functional version of a serotonin transporter gene called 5HTTLPR were more prone to depression during the internship period and found that those having this gene had a significantly greater increase in depression symptoms during the high-stress time of their internships.

"With effective interventions currently available to help prevent depression," said Sen, "the predictive factors identified in this study could allow at-risk interns to take steps before they start to have symptoms to lower their chances of developing depression."

The study will appear in print in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

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