Resilience, professional quality of life and coping mechanisms in doctors and medical students

  • Nicola McKinley

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Medicine


Resilience is both difficult to define and to conceptualise. Although no universal definition exists, conceptually the view that it is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity or significant stress, and return to normal function or even stronger afterwards, would be widely accepted. Despite the importance of resilience within the medical workforce, little is known about it in UK medical doctors, medical students and individuals applying to study medicine at university. This thesis comprises a number of studies that provide quantitative and qualitative information on resilience, in combination with coping mechanisms and professional quality of life, among these groups.

The thesis begins with two systematic reviews. These systematic reviews of published literature on resilience specifically investigate factors that have been shown to influence resilience levels in doctors and medical students. Following this, a mixed methodology national study of resilience, stress, burnout and coping in medical staff across the UK is described. Quantitative analysis of scores from validated psychological instruments is presented. These data were collected using an online survey advertised to UK doctors by Royal Colleges and other medical organisations in 2018. The same validated psychological measures were used to study these factors in medical students in years 1-5 at Queen's University Belfast in 2019 and a group of individuals contemplating studying medicine at university in 2020. A qualitative analysis of responses to a free text question is presented. This open-ended response question concluded the online surveys and asked respondents to identify time points where their resilience was insufficient to cope with demands. Finally, comparisons are made between respondent doctors' and medical students' resilience, burnout, stress and coping and factors that have been identified as influencing these psychological variables, and conclusions are drawn about the implications of this body of research for practice, policy and research.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMike Clarke (Supervisor), Martin Dempster (Supervisor) & Stephen Kirk (Supervisor)


  • Resilience
  • doctor
  • medical student
  • coping mechanisms
  • professional quality of life
  • burnout
  • stress

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