Prevalence rates of childhood trauma in medical students: A systematic review

Eimear King, Claire Steenson, Ciaran Shannon, Ciaran Mulholland*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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It is known that medical students suffer from high rates of mental health difficulties. In recent years there has been an increasing focus on the need to improve support and treatment services for those in difficulty. In order to meet these needs it is important to clarify the relevant aetiological factors. There is robust evidence from general population studies that a history of childhood trauma (including physical and sexual abuse and emotional neglect) predisposes to the subsequent development of mental health difficulties in adult life. It has previously been speculated that students with a history of such trauma might preferentially apply to study medicine. 


This systematic review seeks to examine the existing evidence base with regard to rates of childhood trauma in medical student populations. Articles were identified through a literature search of psychINFO, web of science, Embase and medline. 


This search generated 11 articles which were deemed to meet criteria for inclusion in this review. There is a wide range of results given for rates of childhood trauma in these studies. 


 The published research which examines rates of childhood trauma affecting medical students is limited and difficult to generalise from, or to use to draw firm conclusions. Given the possible negative outcomes of a history of childhood trauma in medical students, including that such a history may be associated with difficulties in a student progressing in their undergraduate and postgraduate examinations, well-organised prospective studies are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number159
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2017


  • Childhood trauma
  • Medical students
  • Mental health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Education

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