Volunteering as prosocial behaviour by medical students following a flooding disaster and impacts on their mental health: A mixed-methods study

Publication Name

Medical Education


Background: Volunteering is a form of prosocial behaviour that has a been recognised as having positive benefits for medical students. However, there is a lack of research on what influences students to volunteer during and after weather-related disasters. Our study (1) explores factors related to medical students' willingness and readiness to volunteer, and (2) describes mental health impacts of the flood events on students. Methods: We conducted a mixed-methods study of medical students on rural clinical placements in a regional area of Australia, 2 to 6 weeks after two major flooding events in 2022. Data were collected through survey and focus groups. Summary statistics were generated from the survey data, and Fisher's exact test was used to determine associations between student experience of the flood and self-rated well-being. Qualitative data were deductively analysed using Byrne and colleagues' theory of prosocial behaviour during an emergency. Results: The 36 students who participated in focus groups (including the 34 who completed the survey) (response rates 84% and 79%, respectively) demonstrated high levels of prosocial behaviours and were willing to volunteer. A sense of moral obligation was the primary reason for volunteering, whereas concerns for their physical and psychological safety, and missing key aspects of their training, were the strongest reasons for not continuing to volunteer. Students reported personal stress, anxiety and trauma during this period, with significant associations between self-rated impacts on their well-being and feelings of being terrified, helpless and hopeless during the flooding events and of still being distressed weeks later (p <.05). Conclusions: This study expands on prosocial behaviour theory by applying Byrne and colleagues elaborated model in the context of medical student volunteering during the 2022 major flooding events in Australia. Modifiable barriers to prosocial behaviour are identified along with proposed strategies to address these barriers.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Sponsor

Department of Health and Aged Care, Australian Government



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