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Sources of stress and psychological morbidity among undergraduate physiotherapy students



Professional education can be a stressful experience for some individuals, and may impact negatively on emotional well-being and academic performance. Psychological morbidity and associated sources of stress have not been investigated extensively in physiotherapy students. This study explored sources of stress, psychological morbidity and possible associations between these variables in undergraduate physiotherapy students.


A questionnaire-based survey. The Undergraduate Sources of Stress Questionnaire was used to identify sources of stress, and the General Health Questionnaire-12 (GHQ-12) was used to rate the prevalence of psychological morbidity, using a conservative GHQ threshold of 3 to 4 to determine probable ‘cases’. Uni- and multivariate tests of correlation were used to analyse the data.


An Irish educational institution.


One hundred and twenty-five physiotherapy undergraduate students.


More than one-quarter of all students (27%) scored above the GHQ threshold, indicating probable psychological morbidity. This is higher than the level of psychological morbidity reported by the general population. Regression analysis showed that academic (β=0.31, P<0.001) and personal (β=0.50, P<0.001) sources of stress subscales were significant coefficients, explaining 48% of the variance in psychological morbidity after controlling for part-time employment and hours spent studying. Individual significant items from these subscales were stressful events (β=0.24, P=0.004), mood (β=0.43, P0.001) and overall level of stress (β=0.35, P0.001).


The results highlighted the emotional vulnerability of a significant proportion of physiotherapy students, with academic and personal issues being the greatest concern. While personal causes of stress such as stressful events and mood are more difficult to control, manipulation of curricular factors may have positive effects on academic sources of stress.

Cite this article

Sources of stress and psychological morbidity among undergraduate physiotherapy students
J.M. Walsh, C. Feeney, J. Hussey, C. Donnellan
Physiotherapy - September 2010 (Vol. 96, Issue 3, Pages 206-212, DOI: 10.1016/


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