Major political events, including Trump election, linked to mood decline among young U.S. doctors

Donald Trump and foreign ties
The election and subsequent inauguration of President Donald Trump resulted in a drop in mood for U.S. physician interns, according to a BMJ study. (Gage Skidmore)

Politics, including the election of President Donald Trump, may be bad for the moods of many young U.S. doctors, according to new research.

The study, published in the BMJ, found that interns’ moods are affected by major political events, with the biggest change reported after the 2016 election of Trump.

The survey of more than 2,300 first-year medical residents seems to support the shifting, left-leaning political affiliation among physicians in recent years, the researchers said.

Major political events, such as the 2016 presidential election and inauguration, were associated with declines in mood among the physicians, according to the study. The researchers surveyed the young doctors about both political events and nonpolitical events, such as the California wildfires and the shooting at a Las Vegas music festival.

The physicians were more likely to report a decline in mood following political events than nonpolitical ones. And events with outcomes in line with conservative political ideologies—such as Trump’s election and the Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh—were associated with a mood decrease.

On the other hand, events with outcomes in line with liberal political ideologies, such as the signing of a U.S. presidential executive order designed to keep migrant families together at the U.S.-Mexico border and the failure to pass a federal spending bill that included funding for a border wall, were associated with a mood increase, the study found.

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That supports evidence that young physicians may increasingly identify as liberal, particularly around factors such as gender, ethnicity and nationality, the researchers say. It may be reflective of a changing physician workforce in which there are more women and more minorities.

The study found women were particularly affected by the 2016 election results and Trump’s inauguration, with mood declines more than double their male counterparts. The researchers said that might be attributed to the political discourse about gender and sexism that arose during the presidential campaign or may reflect a greater disappointment among women residents that the U.S. did not elect its first female president.

“These findings signal that politics and medicine may interact in strong ways in the current era of medicine and that we should carefully consider their implications for young physicians and their patients,” the study authors said.

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The researchers from the University of Michigan undertook the study since residency training after medical school is associated with a considerable increase in stress and depression. But the impact of external factors, including politics, on the mental health of young doctors has not been studied, the researchers said.

Residents provided daily mood data between 2016 and 2018 as part of the Intern Health Study. The researchers identified nine political events including the 2016 presidential election and inauguration, the Muslim travel ban and U.S.-Mexico border wall funding along with eight nonpolitical events including the Super Bowl, Hurricane Irma and a mass shooting at a Florida high school.

The researchers measured the average mood the week after each event and compared it over the preceding four weeks.

The largest declines in mood were seen after the 2016 presidential election and inauguration, with women reporting more than twice the mood decline as men after both these events. The ban on travel from Muslim majority countries and confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court also were associated with notable drops in mood.

However, there was no difference in mood with the failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. Senate, the deployment of troops to the Mexico border to meet a large migrant caravan or the 2018 midterm elections.

In an accompanying article, entitled "Calling Dr. Trump," BMJ features editor Joanne Silberner looks at some of Trump’s tweets and quotes on health issues, noting his changing views on vaccinations and his 2016 view on healthcare reform where he said, “It’s going to be so easy.”