Medical Education  |   December 2020
Toward Resilience: Medical Students' Perception of Social Support
Author Notes
  • From the Office of Rural and Underserved Programs (Dr Casapulla) and the Office of Research and Grants (Ms Chavran) at Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University in Athens (Student Drs Rodriguez and Nandyal) 
  • Financial Disclosures: None reported. 
  • Support: None reported. 
  •  *Address correspondence to Sharon Casapulla, MEd, EdD, MPH, 47 Oxbow Trail, 126 Irvine Hall, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ohio University, Athens, OH, 45701-6809. Email: casapull@ohio.edu
     
Article Information
Medical Education   |   December 2020
Toward Resilience: Medical Students' Perception of Social Support
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, December 2020, Vol. 120, 844-854. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.158
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, December 2020, Vol. 120, 844-854. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.158
Abstract

Context: There is strong evidence that social support—particularly perceived social support—functions as a protective factor for health. Few studies have investigated how medical students perceive the types of social support they experience.

Objective: To determine how osteopathic medical students perceive social support, understand the factors that influence their perceptions, and explore how group participation in a cocurricular, academic program could affect student perceptions.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study of 983 medical students at a multicampus osteopathic medical school in the Midwest, potential respondents were invited by email in March 2018 to participate in a self-reported evaluation of their perceived social support using a 40-question Interpersonal Support Evaluation List (ISEL). The demographic variables included gender, race, age, current phase in medical school, Hispanic heritage, campus assignment, and hometown population type. A total score for each type of social support and a summative score for overall perceived social support were calculated. Descriptive statistics were applied to provide a summary of the distribution of study variables. Bivariate analyses were conducted using student t test and analysis of variance (ANOVA) statistic to determine distribution of 4 social support constructs and overall social support by all the study variables; α < .05 was considered statistically significant. Linear regression analysis was performed to determine the association between all study variables and 4 social support constructs. Pairwise interactions were calculated to determine whether the association differed by any of the study variables.

Results: Self-esteem support was the lowest type of perceived social support overall in the total sample (mean [SD], 23.5[2.0]). Hispanic students reported lower overall mean perceived social support than those who did not identify as Hispanic (100 vs 104; P=.04). Older study participants had higher mean tangible support compared with their younger counterparts (26.25 vs. 25.60, P=.018; t [264]=1.18). Older study participants also had higher mean appraisal support compared with their younger counterparts (26.57 vs. 25.92, P=.06; t [266]=1.27). Female medical students reported lower levels of belonging support overall (mean [SD] 26.79, [2.10]). Students from rural hometowns reported a higher sense of belonging support than any other group. Female students from suburban and urban hometowns reported lower levels of belonging support compared with women from rural hometowns (Adj. β=−0.96, P=.01). Students who participated in the rural and urban underserved program had higher self esteem support compared with those who did not participate in the rural and urban underserved program (Adj. β=−1.30, P=.05). Students in the clinical phase of medical education reported lower levels of belonging support than students in the preclinical phase (26.14 vs. 26.69, P=.05; t[256]=1.07).

Conclusions: It is critical to understand the ways medical students experience social support and the factors that contribute to it. Longitudinal studies following medical students over time would contribute to a more complete understanding of social support in medical students as they move from preclinical to the clinical phases of medical school.

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