Repository logo

When investigating depression and anxiety in undergraduate medical students timing of assessment is an important factor - a multicentre cross-sectional study.

Accepted version



Change log


Thiemann, Pia 
Benson, John 
Quince, Thelma 


BACKGROUND: Symptoms of depression and anxiety experienced by undergraduate medical students have become a prominent concern. Evidence about students' depression and anxiety including prevalence, trajectory during medical education, gender differences and comparisons with age-matched peers is conflicting. However few studies of medical students' mental health specify the precise time of assessment. Proximity to examinations may be relevant. Precise identification of the time of data collection might help explain contradictory findings and facilitate provision of more timely support. METHODS: This study addressed whether: 1)Proximity of final examinations affected students' depression and anxiety symptoms2)Males and females differed in this respect. We analysed data provided by 446 final year students from 6 UK medical schools. These students were a subset of data provided by 14 UK medical schools which participated in an online survey comparing first and final year students and in which final year response rates exceeded 30%. We used the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale to assess symptoms of depression and anxiety and the norms to indicate potentially clinically relevant cases. We grouped students into those for whom final exams were imminent i.e. within 2 months of completing the survey (n = 164) and those for whom exams were more distant or had been taken (n = 282). We used parametric and non-parametric tests to compare both groups and gender differences in respect of depression and anxiety sum scores and cases rates. RESULTS: For both depression and anxiety male and female students facing imminent final exams recorded greater prevalence and significantly higher mean scores. The effect size of differences for anxiety were large. No substantial gender differences were found for depression. Regardless of the timing of final exams female students recorded both significantly higher mean scores and clinically relevant rates for anxiety. CONCLUSIONS: Proximity to final exams negatively affected the mental health of both male and female final year students. The study suggests that there may be times in the undergraduate medical curriculum when additional or targeted support is needed. It also highlights the need for research to provide a greater specificity of context when investigating medical students' mental health.



Anxiety, Depression, Final exams, Timing of assessment, Undergraduate medical students, Adult, Anxiety, Cross-Sectional Studies, Depression, Education, Medical, Undergraduate, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Students, Medical, United Kingdom, Young Adult

Journal Title

BMC Med Educ

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Springer Science and Business Media LLC


All rights reserved
no external funding sources