STUDY ENVIRONMENT. A good social atmosphere, pride in their education and high commitment. But also widespread stress-related illness and worry about future stress and responsibilities at work. This is shown in the report on the psychosocial working environments of Sahlgrenska Academy students, which is also going to be followed up by additional studies and planned interventive actions.
The survey was initiated by Sahlgrenska Academy’s dean at the time, Olle Larkö, and was implemented by researchers at the department of occupational and environmental medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy. The questionnaire was sent out out last autumn, and 61% of the students – almost 2,400 – responded.
“We had seen signs, including from the students’ union and Akademihälsan (the Student Health Center), of an increase in stress-related illness among our students, and so we decided to do a survey in the student population. With more awareness of how they experience their study environment, we can help them to better prepare for working life,” says Eric Hanse, Acting Dean of Sahlgrenska Academy.
The students generally spend many hours on their studies, and the survey shows that around a third of the students experience high levels of exhaustion, stress and worry over their studies and over the requirements in their future work. According to the report, the students also experience less encouragement and personal attention from their lecturers than they would like.
“Our students take demanding courses and will be working in high-paced careers with great responsibility for human lives. We need to be better at noticing the students who don’t feel as good, and also give students better tools to handle the demanding courses and challenges in their future professional roles,” confirms Eric Hanse.
Sahlgrenska Academy is responsible for 18 different course programs which lead to a degree for various professional healthcare categories.
“We need to develop our teaching methods, not least for the larger programs, which have been expanded in recent years. The class sizes are large, which can make it particularly difficult to identify issues and provide feedback,” says Eric, and adds:
“We also need to be better at capturing and meeting new students’ expectations.”
There are already on-going activities in order to improve the students’ psychosocial working environments. For example, the pharmacy program has introductory dialogues, and provide training for students not to put off difficult tasks and avoid procrastination. Also, the medical program has a student support program. These activities will be evaluated as part of the work with the remedial action plans.
Part of the follow-up work is also to take a closer look at some of the more notable results, and investigate. One example is the female medical students, of which 27 % sought help for study-related illness, compared to 9 % of the male medical students. Even compared with female students on other programs, it is more common for female medical students to seek help. The second most common group among females to seek professional help is dentistry students (15 %).
Mia Söderberg, researcher at the Department of occupational and environmental medicine, responsible for the report, explains that there are several factors in a study environment that can be linked to student illness, and that the students’ situation is complex. In addition to their working environments, it may be that their finances or living situation also play a role.
“There are those who think that student stress might mainly be due to a high-performance personality, but it is important to point out that there is still a strong link between study environment and health, even after taking into account factors such as accommodation, finances and different personality traits. We are currently looking at which areas to follow up on with additional studies, but likely we will be further investigating female medical students,” says Mia.
The report is the first large survey at a Swedish university of the study environment’s associations to experienced stress levels and health.
“It is unusual both in terms of the high response rate and having so many students participating in this age range,” says Mia Söderberg, and continues:
“Now we have a clear picture of which groups might need more support and which issues are the most pressing. The report can definitely provide good guidance for remedial action measures, possibly also at other universities with similar courses.”
A comprehensive survey
For SAKS – Sahlgrenska Academy Students’ Union – it’s not surprising that many students are stressed and worried about the huge responsibilities facing them in their future careers. According to Sara Gabrielsen, who herself is a student on the pharmacy program and chair of SAKS, the psychosocial health was worse than expected in some subject areas.
“At the same time, it is positive that the students now can see that they’re not alone in how they feel, and that many students actually seek help and that in itself is absolutely OK. It is important that information on how to get help is given to the students and they should be involved in the work of creating remedial action plans,” says Sara Gabrielsen.
The survey also reveals that the majority of Sahlgrenska Academy’s students are proud of their choice of future occupations, are stimulated by their studies and feel that they are well prepared for their future work. They also describe the atmosphere among the students as good and supportive.
“We’re not surprised, and it’s very positive that the students feel this way. They’re taking their studies seriously and are proud of their future careers. These are key occupational groups in society and so career pride can be essential for future success,” says Sara Gabrielsen.
The report is based on a comprehensive survey, where the students responded to questions on topics such as study demands, stress, discrimination, practical training and the physical working environment. The report presents suggestions for preventive actions, including the faculty increasing resources for stress management and conversational treatment, and that the students’ schedules are planned so they have more time for recovery. But more work is needed.
“We need to think more broadly and with new ideas, in order to equip our students even better. Not only with the students’ union and the Student Health Center, but also in cooperation with the students’ future employers, healthcare” confirms Eric Hanse.
The full report:
The report En rapport om studiemiljö, stress och hälsa bland Sahlgrenska akademins studenter is available in Swedish only.:
TEXT: ANNA von PORAT
PHOTO: JOHAN WINGBORG/GU
Eric Hanse, Acting Dean, Sahlgrenska Academy:
Silvana Naredi, Vice Dean for Education Issues, Sahlgrenska Academy, firstname.lastname@example.org 0766-183758
Mia Söderberg, Med.Dr / Certified psychologist,department of occupational and environmental medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy: email@example.com 031-7866258
Sara Gabrielsen, Chair SAKS, Sahlgrenska Academy student union: firstname.lastname@example.org 0728-575300