West said he can't explain why those more laden with debt are more stressed out. One possibility is that they may be more prone to stress to begin with.
Medical residents' stress has made news for years, and efforts are under way to improve their working conditions. However, West said, "to our knowledge, this is the first national study of residents' distress issues. And it's also the first national study to connect those issues to other important outcomes like medical knowledge."
As for solutions, he said "we have not yet identified the best ways to reduce burnout and promote well-being for residents, or for physicians in general."
He hopes that this new data, now gathered nationally, will help lead to solutions.
The findings come as no surprise to Dr. Peter Cronholm, an assistant professor of family medicine and community health and also a senior fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives of the University of Pennsylvania.
Cronholm, who published a study on resident burnout in 2008, said the residents of today may put more emphasis on work-life balance than previous generations.
One disturbing finding, he said, is that a stressed-out resident has less empathy over time. Already, close to one-third said they felt detached emotionally at least weekly.
However, he said, it's difficult to balance obligations to patients and get sufficient sleep and personal time. "Those two things sort of continue to compete with each other," he said.
Solutions aren't available yet, as "the problem is not yet totally understood. This is part of the conversation about health care reform," he said.
All rights reserved