Pandemic Tied to Significant Drop in Residents' PTSD Rates

Pauline Anderson

September 05, 2023


First year medical residents training during COVID-19 were significantly less likely to have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and workplace trauma compared with their counterparts who trained before the pandemic and reported fewer work hours, higher workload satisfaction, and fewer medical errors, new research shows.


  • Studies have reported a high prevalence of PTSD symptoms among residents during the pandemic, but it's unclear if this prevalence differs from pre-pandemic levels.

  • Using the Intern Health Study, a longitudinal cohort study of first-year residents, researchers investigated differences in PTSD symptoms among those training before the pandemic (2018-2019) and during its first wave (March to June 2020).

  • The study included 1957 first-year residents (48.2% female; mean age, 27.6 years) who completed a baseline survey 2 months before their residency start, and then quarterly surveys during their intern year, with the fourth quarterly survey including a screen for PTSD.

  • Researchers assessed differences in non-residency factors and residency-related factors before and during the pandemic and examined exposure to workplace trauma.


  • Residents training during the pandemic were significantly less likely than pre-pandemic residents to screen positive for PTSD (7.1% vs 10.7%; odds ratio [OR] 0.64; 95% CI, 0.46 - 0.88; P = .01).

  • They were also less likely to have workplace trauma exposure (50.9% vs 56.6%; OR, 0.80; 95% CI, 0.66 - 0.95; P = .01).

  • Residents training during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic reported significantly lower weekly duty hours (score mean difference [MD] –3.1 hours; 95% CI -4.1 to −2.0 hours), lower mean reports of medical errors (MD −0.04; 95% CI –0.06 to –0.01), and higher workload satisfaction (MD, 0.2; 95% CI, 0.2 to 0.3).

  • However, after accounting for these residency-related factors, training during the pandemic was no longer associated with lower odds of presenting PTSD symptoms.


While the findings show residents training during the first pandemic wave were less likely to have PTSD, future studies should further follow these residents' PTSD symptoms and investigate whether interventions targeting residency-related factors could reduce their PTSD risk moving forward, the investigators note.


The study was carried out by Michelle K. Ptak, BA, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues. It was published online August 22 in JAMA Network Open.


The study used self-reports and included only the first pandemic wave, first-year residents, and pre-pandemic data for a single academic year. Survey participation decreased during the pandemic and it's possible there were unmeasured factors associated with PTSD risk.


The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health. The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

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