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Are health professionals getting caught in the crossfire? The personal implications of caring for trauma victims


Objectives: To investigate the long term psychological sequelae of treating multiple victims of traumatic incidents, such as violent crime and motor vehicle accidents, and to assess staff exposure to violent patients in the emergency department.

Methods: A self administered questionnaire booklet was distributed to all full time and part time staff working within the Johannesburg Hospital Trauma Unit during September 2002. Participation was voluntary. The questionnaire was specifically designed for the study as no relevant, validated questionnaire was found to be suitable. Psychological assessment comprised two standardised measures, the impact of event scale-revised and the Maslach burnout inventory.

Results: Thirty eight staff members completed the questionnaire, a response rate of 90%. Over 40% of respondents had been physically assaulted while at work and over 90% had been verbally abused. Staff reported a significant level of post-traumatic symptoms, evaluated by the impact of event scale-revised (median = 17.5, range = 0–88), as a result of critical incidents they had been involved in during the previous six months. At least half of the respondents also reported a “high” degree of professional burnout in the three sub-scales of the Maslach burnout tnventory—that is emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and personal accomplishment.

Conclusions: Preventative measures, such as increased availability of formal psychological support, should be considered by all trauma units to protect the long term emotional wellbeing of their staff.

  • CMC, coping methods checklist
  • IES-R, impact of event scale-revised
  • MBI, Maslach burnout inventory
  • burnout
  • health personnel
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • violence

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