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Medical student syndrome

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Medical student syndrome is a type of literary self-imposed hypochondria. It typically starts as a person reads or learns about an illness or disorder and begins to believe they have it. It is thus an example of apophenia. It is not limited to medical students; anyone who reads is susceptible. However, it is believed to be most frequently observed in medical students.


During their medical education, students must learn syndromes or symptom lists of various rare and malevolent diseases. As they read about these diseases, students are susceptible to believing that they exhibit a symptom or sign associated with the disease. For example, the student reads about brain tumour which is associated with headache. If, by coincidence, the individual suffers from a headache, he or she may presume they have a brain tumour. It is not limited to medical students; anyone who reads medical material is susceptible. However, it is most frequently observed in medical students.

An old adage states: "if a medical student hears hoof-beats outside the window they think it's a zebra" - in other words they conclude that the common sound is ascribable to the rarer beast. As one continues in clinical medicine, the opposing adage: "common things occur commonly" becomes a more valuable motto.

This syndrome is becoming more common as people use the Internet and come to their doctors anxiously clutching various print-outs of rare disease symptoms, whereas probably all they have is something common and benign. It is part of the downside of the free and opulent information flow available on-line, especially where that information is either of dubious quality or is accessed by an amateur who cannot temper the information with a reasoned and informed opinion.

Time affectedEdit

Though it may occur at any time in a physician's career, in India it commonly occurs during the first clinical year, the internship, and the first year of postgraduate education.[1]

More common diseasesEdit

Psychiatric disorders are more commonly involved.[2]Also involved are Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Neurologic and Various Malignant Diseases.


The study of medicine can, ironically, have a negative effect upon the health of the student.[3] Medical student syndrome is doubtlessly exacerbated by the lifestyle that students of medicine endure. Lack of sleep, stress, and substance abuse contribute to put the typical medical student at risk of mental disease.

A humorous account of this can be found in Jerome K. Jerome's novel, Three Men in a Boat.

See alsoEdit


  1. A hospital based Situation Analysis: Study on Health and Mental Status of Medical Undergraduates - March 2002 - TN MGR Medical University
  2. A hospital based Situation Analysis: Study on Health and Mental Status of Medical Undergraduates - March 2002 - TN MGR Medical University
  3. "Medical students show a higher prevalence of psychological distress." Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol. 1999 Jan;49(1):29-36. German.
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