The challenges facing trauma care providers can put them at risk for “compassion fatigue” and burnout, a small new study says.
Previous research has found that compassion fatigue can cause trauma team members to feel emotionally exhausted, depressed and anxious. They also may feel like failures professionally, the researchers said.
For this study, 12 trauma team members at a Level 1 trauma center were enrolled in a discussion group. The workers cited on-the-job stress triggers that included child or elder abuse, trauma involving children, cases involving multiple family members, injuries from avoidable situations and “senseless” deaths.
Other causes of stress included dealing with patients’ family members and difficulties with trauma team coordination.
Even though all participants reported low or mild stress levels, three-quarters had moderate to high scores for secondary trauma stress, which is stress caused by experiencing trauma indirectly and includes compassion fatigue.
One-third had a combination of high burnout and low levels of positive experiences helping patients, while another one-quarter had moderate levels of burnout, according to the study in the January issue of the Journal of Trauma Nursing.
“Participants did not feel they experienced compassion fatigue often, and when they did, coping strategies appeared to differ between respondents,” Gina Berg, of the University of Kansas School of Medicine Wichita, and colleagues said in a journal news release.
Even though the participants said compassion fatigue was rare, assessments conducted by the researchers indicated the presence of compassion fatigue and burnout.
“This suggests trauma team members may not be as adept at managing work stressors as well as they perceive,” the researchers wrote.
In order to cope, trauma team members must acknowledge that compassion fatigue occurs and is an expected reality of the profession, Berg and colleagues suggested.
The study participants had no training in managing stress. But they said they felt able to deal with it through methods such as talking with each other and making time for themselves.
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