Objectives This qualitative study aimed to explore the occupational experiences of medical students and junior doctors working during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the research sought to identify factors which mediated work stress, barriers to disclosing mental health problems and levels of support medical students and junior doctors received during the pandemic.

Design This study was a form of thematic analysis and adopted an inductive, ‘bottom-up’ approach, in which coded categories were derived from rich, descriptive data.

Setting Semistructured interviews were conducted online with UK-based medical students and junior doctors. Interviews were recorded, and analysis was done by coding salient quotes into themes.

Participants The final sample consisted of seven junior doctors and eight medical students, during the summer of 2021.

Results High levels of occupational stress were identified, which were exacerbated by COVID-19. A number of organisational difficulties associated with the pandemic compounded participants’ experiences of work stress. Participants recognised progress towards promoting and managing mental health within the profession but may still be reluctant to access support services. Barriers to disclosure included fear of stigmatisation, concerns about adding to colleagues’ workloads, lack of clarity about career implications and mistrust of occupational health services.

Conclusions While attitudes towards mental health have improved, medical students and junior doctors may avoid seeking help. Given the immense pressures faced by health services, it is imperative that extra measures are implemented to minimise work-stress, encourage help-seeking behaviours and promote supportive work cultures.


This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Cite as

Tawse, J. & Demou, E. 2022, 'A qualitative study to explore UK medical students’ and junior doctors’ experiences of occupational stress and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic', BMJ Open, 12(12), article no: e065639. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2022-065639

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Last updated: 15 December 2022
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