Prevalence of Secondary Traumatic Stress Among Emergency Nurses


      Emergency nurses often care for persons exposed to traumatic events. In the presence of empathetic caring, nurses exposed to such stressors over time can suffer from Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), or Compassion Fatigue (CF). STS symptoms (intrusion, avoidance, and arousal) may lead to job dissatisfaction or burnout. The purpose of this study is to investigate the prevalence of STS in emergency nurses.


      Exploratory comparative design, with 67 emergency nurses from three general community hospitals in California. Survey instruments included a demographic tool and the STS Survey (STSS).


      Nurses were most likely to have Arousal symptoms (irritability reported by 54% of nurses), followed by Avoidance symptoms (avoidance of patients 52%), and Intrusion symptoms (intrusive thoughts about patients 46%). The majority of nurses (85%) reported at least one symptom in the past week. Utilizing Bride’s algorithm to identify STS, 15% of nurses met no criteria, while 33% met all. Nurse participation in stress management activities was associated with less prevalence of STS symptoms.


      High prevalence of STS in our sample indicates that potentially large numbers of emergency nurses may be experiencing the negative effects of STS. Symptoms may contribute to emotional exhaustion and job separation of emergency nurses. Subsequent studies should be done to evaluate the association of CF/STS on actual burnout and attrition among emergency nurses.
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      Elvira Dominguez-Gomez, Inland Empire Chapter, is Emergency Department Nurse, Hemet Valley Medical Center, Hemet, CA.


      Dana N. Rutledge is Associate Professor, Nursing, California State University, Fullerton, CA.

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      • Secondary Traumatic Stress and Mindfulness Training
        Journal of Emergency NursingVol. 36Issue 1
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          This year I celebrate 33 years in nursing, 29 years as an emergency nurse, and my final 9 months of graduate school for nursing administration. The recent article by Dominguez-Gomez and Rutledge1 regarding the prevalence of secondary traumatic stress (STS) and compassion fatigue (CF) among emergency nurses was one I can empathize with, and I share a sincere interest in resolving these issues as a nurse leader. Emergency nurses give of themselves to the point of having nothing left to resolve their own emotional needs.
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