Our expert answers 3 Questions
I am thinking about the relationship between genetics, stress and depression. We know that stress is a major contributor in the development of illnesses such as depression, and now we’re discovering that high-level stress environments, such as medical internship (the first year of professional physician training), can lead to depressive episodes. Because the stress of internship does not affect all individuals in the same way, I’m also interested in learning more about the genetic factors that may make individuals more likely to experience episodes of depression.
This is interesting to me because a significant relationship exists between depression and committing medical errors; the sixth leading cause of death in the nation. My team’s Intern Health Study evaluates medical students a month before they start their residency and follows them throughout the course of the year. Our results show that approximately 50 percent of them have at least one episode of depression during that span. Additionally, for every three-month period, 25 percent of students in residency report that they committed a medical error which resulted in harm to a patient. Any work that we can do to reduce those errors will have a positive effect on patient outcomes.
Patient safety is a large implication. Not only through reducing medical errors, but producing environments where doctors are less stressed themselves. This can lead to higher levels of compassion, and increased confidence among physicians themselves. Doctors who are well educated about mental health issues usually become better at identifying these types of problems in patients. Our team would like to see if any interventions we implement during residency end up helping to reduce depression later on in these individuals’ medical careers.