Doctors who claim to be overworked and stressed out should think twice before blaming their jobs, a study suggests.
Many doctors say they are overworked and stressed
Researchers from University College London surveyed 1,668 doctors three times over the past 14 years.
They found that doctors who claimed to be stressed out and overworked in 2002 were saying the same thing when they were studying medicine.
Writing in BMC Medicine, they suggested personality traits were often as much to blame as working conditions.
The study comes just months after a survey for the BBC's NHS Day found four out of five GPs were stressed out.
Most of the 569 GPs who said they were stressed blamed excessive workloads, pressure from patients and interference from NHS managers for their problems.
Seven out of 10 said they expected their stress levels to rise over the course of this year.
In April, doctors at Central Manchester NHS Trust called in a team of psychologists to help them cope with stress. Senior staff said NHS reforms had put them under pressure.
But this latest study suggests other factors may also be at play.
Dr Chris McManus and colleagues first surveyed the doctors when they applied to study medicine. They were questioned again when they were leaving medical school and again two years ago.
They found that doctors who claimed to have heavy workloads often found it difficult to organise their time effectively.
Similarly, doctors who felt they did not receive enough support from colleagues were themselves less agreeable.
But they also found that doctors who complained about workload and lack of support at university, were most likely to be feeling stressed or burnt out in their jobs.
In addition, they said personality tests carried out in 1990 could have predicted those most at risk.
They said doctors who claimed to be stressed at work struggled at university, often failing to understand what was being taught. They were also more likely to have personality problems.
The researchers said the findings suggested that personality traits played a part in making doctors feel stressed or overworked.
But they also suggested that the findings could be used to identify doctors who may be at risk of stress.
"A knowledge of the personality and learning styles of medical students and doctors may be helpful in allowing individuals to have insight into their strengths and vulnerabilities and therefore avoid situations in which they become stressed," said Professor Chris McManus, one of the authors.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics and science at the British Medical Association, described the findings as interesting.
She added: "Perhaps some profiling of students at interview stage would help future doctors understand their different learning styles and develop mechanisms that would reduce the risk of burn out.
"However, doctors are only human and their working environment should not
mean that only the fittest survive.
"Support systems should be in place in all areas of medicine so those doctors who are suffering from stress can seek help quickly.
"There should be a culture change so that doctors do not feel ashamed to ask for help."