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Mental Health For Medical Workers: Meeting with Students From Pleven

On April 25th Astra Forum Foundation held a meeting with students from Medical University of Pleven, where the foundation presented the initiative for prevention of burnout among medical workers.

The purpose of the discussion was to raise awareness of mental health and the interpersonal communication between doctors and patients.

The students learned about Astra Forum Foundation’s cause, supported by UNICEF, which targets medical specialists and prevention from burnout.

This was the third meeting with students from different medical universities in the country, and the foundation will continue to organize events with other facilities. The first two meetings were held in Sofia and Stara Zagora.


“Until recently, it was believed that “burn-out” is a phenomenon that occurred among doctors at the ends of their careers. However, studies show that the risk of burnout for young doctors, including medical students, is twice as high, compared to elder medical specialists”.

It became clear that in the national study for education by General Medical Council for 2021, one third of the interns have reported that they felt “burned out” to a high degree, due to their work, more than they did before the pandemic.

In April 2022, 62% of young doctors reported that they currently suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional stress or other mental conditions, caused by their work or studies. Half of them believe that their health became worse during the previous month.

The results are disturbing, because the percentages are higher than the “burnout” levels that were reported during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic – 53%.

What made an impression during the meeting was that the students were not open for discussion, which brings out the question if mental health is still a “taboo” subject in Bulgaria.


Astra Forum Foundation created a survey, which intends to study the mental health condition of medical professionals in the country.

The data was presented to the audience.

We are witnessing a high percentage of occupation among the respondents – 91%, of which 29% are working at more than one place and almost 43% of the respondents are doctor-specialists. After them, the highest percentage are the doctors. 12.3% are post-graduate students, the percentage of medical university workers is low (3.3%) nurses, obstetricians (9%). 8.2% of the respondents are medical staff from a different medical field.

A large portion (26.8%) often engage in additional work. Almost 1/3 of health workers (27.6%) occasionally undertake additional responsibilities, while 20.3% do it regularly.

The percentage of those who work at multiple places is relatively high.

I took additional responsibilities Rarely
122 answers

  • Occasionally
  • Regularly
  • Often
  • Always

Do you work currently? (up to 2 possible answers)

122 answers

  • I work full-time 90 (73.8%)
  • I work part-time 12 (9.8%)
  • I work at two places 35 (28.7%)
  • Retired 5 (4.1%)


Good mental health is the foundation of fundamental human qualities, for example: communication skills; learning abilities, positive thinking; emotional stability and self-respect. Educational institutions must support and assist theirs students in their mental health development. Here are some suggestions for encouraging the students to take care of themselves:

  • Evaluation of wellbeing. Universities should routinely inspect their students’ wellbeing, by using standardized evaluations. The summarized results should be compared to national criteria, in order to obtain an idea of how the students are coping locally, compared to nationally. This can be achieved using short, anonymous evaluations to obtain the information.
  • Encouragement of self-care. Considering the limited schedule and the pressure, the management should encourage the students to be “educated, to aim towards healthy self-improvement and to avoid the self-destructive and exhausting effects of perfectionism”. Some institutions suggest the students should take “personal days” off during their academic year, as an intervention to encourage self-care.
  • Optimizing the academic environment and cultivating the community. Not the pressure, but the academic environment, appears to be the cause of burnout among medical students. There needs to be an organized and supportive environment for the students, where they can feel encouraged. It is the institutions’ responsibility to create a community among students, but also between professors and students.

Awareness. In order to find a solution to the problem, first we need to recognize it. It is important for the students to be educated on the subject of “burnout” from the moment their academic practices begin. How to tell the difference between stress and “distress”, how to recognize the first symptoms of “burnout”, how to choose the best prevention methods and more.


Another important topic, which Astra Forum Foundation presented, was aimed towards interpersonal communication between doctor and patient. Momchil Baev, MD, founder and chairman of the Foundation, spoke elaborately on the subject, emphasizing that health workers have a leading role in the maintenance of public trust in immunization.

“Health workers who successfully achieve interpersonal communication with their patients are in position to build relationships, based on mutual trust and to increase vaccination coverage, in order for more children to receive their mandatory and recommended vaccines, according to the national immunization schedule”.

The publication “Interpersonal communication. Handbook for healthcare workers” was presented at the event.

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