The Decrease in Rates of Sexual Harassment and Gender Harassment Among Interns

The Decrease in Rates of Sexual Harassment and Gender Harassment Among Interns

The study conducted by Elena Frank, PhD, and her colleagues at the Michigan Neuroscience Institute at the University of Michigan revealed a decrease in the rates of sexual harassment and gender harassment among interns during their first year of training. The survey showed a significant shift in these behaviors, with sexual harassment decreasing from 62.8% in 2017 to 54.6% in 2023. The findings indicated an odds ratio of 0.92 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.90-0.94, showing a clear reduction in sexual harassment incidents.

The study also highlighted an increase in the recognition of sexual harassment incidents among interns, with recognition rates rising from 8.6% to 18.4% over the years. This change was more prominent among women compared to men and surgical interns compared to nonsurgical interns. Similarly, gender harassment recognition also saw an increase from 8.9% to 18.9% overall, emphasizing a growing awareness of these behaviors among the intern population.

Despite the positive changes observed in sexual harassment and gender harassment rates, the study revealed some alarming trends. Rates of sexual coercion more than doubled for women interns, from 2.3% to 5.5%, during the study period. This increase was also significant for nonsurgical interns, rising from 1.6% to 4%. The concerning rise in sexual coercion incidents among interns emphasized the need for further interventions and support mechanisms to address these issues.

Unique Stressors for Women

Women interns faced unique stressors during their training, as indicated by the study findings. The recognition of unwanted sexual attention increased notably for women trainees, from 29.7% to 41.8%, highlighting the challenges faced by female interns in a male-dominated field. Surgical trainees also experienced a fourfold increase in gender harassment recognition, from 6.8% to 28.8%, underlining the gender disparities present in the medical training environment.

The Call for Cultural Change

Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, of Emory University School of Medicine, emphasized the importance of the study in shedding light on the prevalence of sexual harassment in medical training. While the increase in recognition rates is encouraging, there is still a need for a cultural shift to address these unacceptable behaviors effectively. The study authors stressed the importance of closing the gap between harassment experiences and their recognition to create a more inclusive and respectful training environment.

Study Limitations and Future Research

The study, which included 4,178 participants from various specialties, highlighted the need for future research to delve deeper into specialty-, institution-, and program-specific factors that impact sexual harassment and reporting. The authors acknowledged the limitation of potential underreporting in their study and suggested further exploration of these factors to develop targeted interventions and policies.

The study by Elena Frank and her colleagues provides valuable insights into the changing landscape of sexual harassment and gender harassment among interns. While the decrease in harassment rates and the increase in recognition are positive developments, the rise in sexual coercion incidents and the unique challenges faced by women interns underscore the ongoing need for action. Addressing these issues requires a collaborative effort from medical institutions, training programs, and individual healthcare providers to foster a respectful and safe environment for all interns.

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