The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2002 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

Psychological Impact of Death, Dying, and Trauma on Health Care Providers

Kimberly M. Kingsley, RRT, MA; Main Medical Center, Portland, ME

Background: Critical care respiratory therapists are exposed to significant amounts of death, dying, and trauma. I hypothesized that this exposure will have a psychological impact on the clinician and that there are supportive elements that an institution can provide to reduce the negative impacts. Further, individuals develop their own coping mechanisms that I wanted to discover.

Method: I distributed an original questionnaire to 65 respiratory therapists. Topics covered by the questions included: 1. Rating 10 aspects of stress within the hospital environment, comparing the level of stress caused by exposure to death, dying, and trauma to other elements in the work environment, such as interaction with the supervisory group; 2. Support mechanisms provided by the institution; and 3. coping skills developed and employed by individual respiratory therapists.

Results: The return rate for my questionnaire was 43% (28 of 65). I analyzed the data in aggregate for the whole group, and then broke the group down into three subgroups in order to analyze the data further. These groups were based on years of experience: Group A (0-5 years, 6 total responses), Group B (6-15 years, 10 total responses) and Group C (16 or more years, 12 total responses). I found that the cumulative effects of exposure to death, dying, and trauma are less stressful than the stress of feeling unsupported by their supervisory group. I also found that there were more responses in common between Groups A and C than in Group B.

Conclusion: This study is limited by the small study size so that the results cannot be generalized to all critical care respiratory therapists. Data was evaluated in a qualitative manner trying to facilitate a more formal support system. Based on responses I recommend the formation of a more formal support system utilizing elements requested by the respiratory therapists themselves.


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