Students' Perceptions of Trigger Warnings in Medical Education.


Phenomenon: Trigger warnings are verbal statements or written warnings that alert students in advance to potentially distressing material. Medical education includes numerous subjects frequently identified as triggers, such as abuse, rape, self-injurious behaviors, eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide. Thus, exploring medical students' perceptions of trigger warnings may provide a valuable perspective on the use of these warnings in higher education. APPROACH As part of a larger descriptive, cross-sectional survey study on medical education, we assessed 1st- and 2nd-year medical students' perceptions of trigger warnings in the preclinical curriculum. Five questions specific to trigger warnings explored students' knowledge, prior experience, and perceptions of trigger warnings in medical education. Frequencies of individual question responses were calculated, and qualitative data were analyzed via content and thematic analyses. FINDINGS Of the 424 medical students invited to participate, 259 completed the survey (M = 24.8 years, SD + 3.4, 51.4% female, 76.1% White, 53.7% 1st-year students). Few students (11.2%) were aware of the term trigger warning and its definition. However, after being presented with a formal definition on the online survey, 38.6% reported having had a professor use one. When asked whether they supported the use of trigger warnings in medical education, respondents were distributed fairly equally by response (yes = 31.0%, maybe = 39.2%, no = 29.7%). Qualitative analysis revealed three themes: (a) Trigger Warnings Allow Students to Know What is Coming and Prepare Themselves: Respondents believed that trigger warnings would benefit students with a history of trauma by providing them additional time to prepare for the material and, if appropriate, seek professional help; (b) Students Need to Learn How to Handle Distressing Information: Respondents agreed that they needed to learn and cope with highly sensitive material because they would be confronted with difficult and unexpected situations in clinical practice; and (c) Trigger Warnings Help Students Understand the Severity of the Material: Respondents felt that trigger warnings may help students understand the severity of the material being covered and increase awareness about trauma and its effects on health and well-being. Insights: Findings did not reach consensus for or against the use of trigger warnings in medical school; however, students emphasized the importance of learning how to cope with distressing material. Trigger warnings may represent a teaching tool to facilitate classroom discussions about the severity of trauma-related material and problem-focused coping strategies.

DOI: 10.1080/10401334.2017.1330690

Cite this paper

@article{Beverly2017StudentsPO, title={Students' Perceptions of Trigger Warnings in Medical Education.}, author={Elizabeth Ann Beverly and Sebasti{\'a}n D{\'i}az and Anna M Kerr and Jane T Balbo and Kayla E . Prokopakis and Todd Robert Fredricks}, journal={Teaching and learning in medicine}, year={2017}, pages={1-10} }