Work-life balance in medical students: self-care in a culture of self-sacrifice

Aled Picton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
289 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Work-life balance is a key contributor to doctors' wellbeing and consequently is a central factor in their career decisions. General Medical Council guidance outlines the importance of work-life balance as part of compassionate self-care. Learning self-care should begin as an undergraduate, when academic and clinical workload can contribute to stress, anxiety and burnout.

METHODS: Sequential mixed methods study of medical students in Years 3-5 at the University of Birmingham, UK. Students (n = 145) defined work-life balance in free-text answers and self-assessed their current work-life balance via questionnaires. Following this, a sub-sample of students (n = 44) participated in exploratory individual mini-interviews.

RESULTS: Work-life balance emerged as a broad and multifactorial concept. Questionnaire respondents most frequently referenced enjoyment, meeting work requirements and time management in their definitions. Interview participants highlighted additional influencing factors such as peer groups, study skills, family and professional culture. Students expect a significant shift towards work after graduating and expressed concerns about the stresses of delivering patient care. 42% (n = 60) of students felt they had received support with their work-life balance during their training, mostly from family and friends. Most students had not received support or advice on their work-life balance from University or hospital staff.

CONCLUSION: Self-care and work-life balance are essential for medical students and doctors to cope with lifelong learning and deliver effective care. Medical school staff should be pro-active in supporting students to develop these skills, particularly during critical transition periods. Early interventions targeting study skills and time management may be beneficial. Further research should include students in Years 1-2 and compare different institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2021


  • Medical students
  • Self-care
  • Undergraduate
  • Wellbeing
  • Work-life balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Work-life balance in medical students: self-care in a culture of self-sacrifice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this