Stress, debt and undergraduate medical student performance

Sarah Ross, Jennifer Anne Cleland, Mary Joan MacLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Against the background of current debate over university funding and widening access, we aimed to examine the relationships between student debt, mental health and academic performance.

Methods: We carried out an electronic survey of all medical undergraduate students at the University of Aberdeen during May-June 2004. The questionnaire contained items about demographics, debt, income and stress. Students were also asked for consent to access their examination results, which were correlated with their answers. Statistical analyses of the relationships between debt, performance and stress were performed.

Results: The median total outstanding debt was 7300 pound (interquartile range 2000-14 762.50). Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and postgraduate students had higher debts. There was no direct correlation between debt, class ranking or General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) score; however, a subgroup of 125 students (37.7%), who said that worrying about money affected their studies, did have higher debt and were ranked lower in their classes. Some of these students were also cases on the GHQ-12. Overall, however, cases on the GHQ had lower levels of debt and lower class ranking, suggesting that financial worries are only 1 cause of mental health difficulties.

Discussion: Students' perceptions of their own levels of debt rather than level of debt per se relates to performance. Students who worry about money have higher debts and perform less well than their peers in degree examinations. Some students in this subgroup were also identified by the GHQ and may have mental health problems. The relationships between debt, mental health and performance in undergraduate medical students are complex but need to be appreciated by medical education policy makers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-589
Number of pages5
JournalMedical Education
Issue number6
Early online date11 May 2006
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006


  • stress, psychological, aetiology, economics
  • students, medical, psychology
  • educational status
  • financing, personal
  • education, medical, undergraduate
  • economics
  • income
  • mental health
  • Scotland
  • humans


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