Impact of Vicarious Traumatization on Healthcare Workers

Healthcare Training Resource
June 26, 2012 — 949 views  
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Healthcare professionals have some of the toughest jobs in the world. Doctors, nurses and even physician's assistants have to deal with gruesome injuries and the possibility of patient death every day, and while some occupations are more serious than others, every medical staff member has at least a few tough experiences over the course of their careers.

It is no wonder that some people come away from these moments with emotional scars. Vicarious traumatization is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that develops slowly over time and can eventually have a significant impact on a professional's life. Managers and other psychiatric staff should be fully aware of vicarious traumatization and also take certain measures to lower the prevalence of this disorder.

Vicarious traumatization

In layman's terms, this disorder occurs when a person invests time and love into an individual and is rewarded with an unfortunate consequence such as death. Imagine an oncologist who developed a specific relationship with a cancer patient over the years, only to have the sick person pass away when things were looking up. This situation would be hard on anyone, but especially on those who were closely involved during the last phase of the patient's life.

Despite all of their medical training, doctors can feel helpless in such situations, and this partly comes from their personal feelings of responsibility. As physicians, they are obligated to help the infirmed - failure might result in death, which this is not an easy pill to swallow. This stress can leak into everyday life, and could make a person more prone to an outbreak.

Preventing vicarious traumatization

How do you address and prevent this issue in the workplace? There are several solutions, and each can be combined with the others to provide the most possible help.

Group support is a good way to address the matter. Despite the candor and friendliness of psychiatric staff, no one can sympathize more with an individual than someone who has actually been in their shoes. Encouraging employees to speak to their teammates about their experiences can result in shared pain, but also shared healing.

The work environment is also crucial. A high-stress, low-reward workplace can make anyone feel terrible, and doctors with an unrealistic workload can snap under the pressure. If someone is exhibiting signs of vicarious traumatization, supervisors should give them a few days off, or at least reduce their daily requirements. Even a couple of extra hours of sleep can mean all the difference.

Healthcare Training Resource