COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Wellbeing of professionals at entry into the labour market: a follow up survey of medicine and architecture students

P Virtanen, A M Koivisto
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2001, 55 (11): 831-5
11604440

STUDY OBJECTIVE: Knowledge about changes in wellbeing during the passage from professional studies to working life is scarce and controversial. This study examined these changes among university graduates with good and poor employment prospects.

DESIGN: A longitudinal study with four postal questionnaire surveys of a closed cohort.

SETTING: Cohorts of graduating Finnish physicians and architects were followed up from 1994 to 1998. In 1994 Finland's national economy was still struggling to break loose from a period of severe recession, and unemployment rates were high even among educated professionals. As economic growth eventually got under way the unemployment situation began to ease for physicians but not for architects.

PARTICIPANTS: Architecture students (n = 189) from Finland's three technical universities and medical students (n = 638) from Finland's five medical faculties. Both had started their studies in 1989.

RESULTS: In the first questionnaire survey there were no differences between the professions in strain resistance resources, as indicated by Sense of Coherence (SOC), or in psychological distress, as indicated by General Health Questionnaire (GHQ). Profession emerged as a significant between subject factor in analysis of variance for repeated measures of both SOC and GHQ. Physicians' scores on the 13 item SOC questionnaire improved during the follow up from 62.6 to 67.5 and on the 12 item GHQ questionnaire from 24.2 to 22.2. Among architects the corresponding scores remained unchanged (62.5-62.2 and 23.1-22.6). The significance of profession remained unchanged when gender and individuals' graduation and total work experience were introduced to the statistical models as between subject factors.

CONCLUSIONS: Improved SOC in physicians but not in architects supports the hypothesis that good employment prospects are important to employee wellbeing. Although less consistent, indicating fluctuations in day to day psychological distress, GHQ findings are also in line with the hypothesis. In both professions the indicators studied were independent of individuals' graduation and career. It is concluded that rather than individually, the mechanisms that connect employment prospects with wellbeing operate collectively within the whole profession. Highly educated professionals do not complete their studies until almost 30, and if for reasons of insecure employment they are unable to develop their SOC to the optimum level at that age, their resources for resisting health endangering strain may remain permanently poor.

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