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Researchers to trauma centers: Help staff cope with stress

Trauma workers

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Wichita, KS – Workers at Level I trauma centers may be at risk for “compassion fatigue” and “burnout syndrome,” according to a study from the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

Researchers organized a focus group consisting of 12 trauma team members to learn about positive aspects of the job, stress triggers and possible solutions to help workers in similar roles. Compassion fatigue was defined by researchers as a type of secondary traumatic stress for workers who indirectly experience trauma. For example, workers reported feeling stress when exposed to situations such as child abuse, elder abuse or any traumatic event involving a child.

“Participants did not feel they experienced [compassion fatigue] often, and when they did, coping strategies appeared to differ between respondents,” researchers wrote. “No participants reported receiving any training during their education on how to handle [stress triggers], yet trauma workers felt they had the ability to deal with stress themselves. Most were aware of institutional options available but felt uncomfortable or unwilling to engage such services.”

Researchers offered several recommendations to trauma programs, including:

  • Accept compassion fatigue and burnout syndrome as realities within the profession; consider designating a “champion” to educate workers about patient care-related stress.
  • Lead team discussions about coping with stress as part of regularly scheduled meetings, as opposed to special meetings for crises or troublesome behavior.
  • Cultivate social support and positive relationships between supervisors and workers.
  • Take a proactive approach to “high crisis situations”; consider making a counselor or chaplain available for informal conversations or formal interventions after certain events.

The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Trauma Nursing.

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