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Secondary Traumatic Stress in Ob-Gyn: A Mixed Methods Analysis Assessing Physician Impact and Needs. J Surg Educ 2020 Sep 15



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OBJECTIVE: This study aims to evaluate the incidence of secondary traumatic stress in Obstetrics and Gynecology physicians including symptoms, impact, and programmatic needs for support.

DESIGN: This study used a mixed-methods approach comprised of an anonymous online survey and individual interviews/focus groups. IBM SPSS 24.0 generated statistical analysis: descriptive statistics, Fisher's exact test to compare nominal survey data and across groups, phi correlations (ϕ) and interitem reliability (Cronbach alpha). Constant comparative qualitative analysis determined cross-cutting themes. Research was approved by institutional IRB.

SETTING: This study was conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a large academic medical institution.

PARTICIPANTS: Participants were recruited from the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology via email. Faculty, fellows, and residents participated in an anonymous online survey and were invited to complete individual interviews or focus groups. The online survey was distributed to 67 clinical faculty, residents, and fellows with a total of 27 individuals completing the reliable (alpha = 0.71) anonymous survey (40% response rate). Ten faculty participated in individual interviews or focus groups.

RESULTS: Respondents to the quantitative survey identified involvement in adverse medical events (95%) and symptoms of traumatic stress (75%). Anxiety (81%), guilt (62%), and disrupted sleep (58%) were most frequently reported symptoms (mean number of symptoms = (3.4(±2.1)). Individuals reporting anxiety were more likely to seek support from colleagues (ϕ = 0.5, p < 0.006); those reporting guilt would go to friends (ϕ = 0.5, p < 0.007). Disrupted sleep more commonly led to seeking mental health services (ϕ = 0.5, p < 0.007). Desire for support varied. Those reporting anxiety were interested in peer-to-peer responders (ϕ = 0.6, p < 0.001); those reporting guilt would use debriefing sessions (ϕ = 0.4, p < 0.023). Qualitative data from individual interviews and focus groups yielded descriptions of physical and cognitive symptoms associated with second victim experiences included responsibility, guilt/shame, self-doubt, anxiety/rumination and sleep disturbance. Identified resources for coping: just culture, collegial support, peer-to-peer responders, and structured case conferences for emotional debriefing.

CONCLUSIONS: Obstetrics and Gynecology providers are likely to experience symptoms of secondary traumatic stress following adverse patient events similar to other medical specialties. Comprehensive programs to address emotional well-being of physicians are important to promote collegiality and reduce symptoms of secondary traumatic stress. Safety and transparency with opportunities for group processing are identified as essentials for positive institutional culture, as well as peer support programs.

Author List

Kruper A, Domeyer-Klenske A, Treat R, Pilarski A, Kaljo K


Amy Domeyer-Klenske MD Assistant Professor in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Kristina Kaljo PhD Assistant Professor in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Abbey R. Kruper PsyD Associate Professor in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Robert W. Treat PhD Associate Professor in the Academic Affairs department at Medical College of Wisconsin