Mass Shootings: Helping Nurses Cope With the Trauma

It has happened again. On October 22, 2022, workplace violence claimed the lives of two healthcare professionals from Methodist Dallas Medical Center in Texas. It’s a shocking tragedy that, according to reports, unfolded in the center’s labor and delivery unit, where recovering new mothers rest under the watchful eyes of their healthcare teams. Both victims were providing care at the time of the shooting.

It’s safe to assume that today, and for the foreseeable future, the families and colleagues will mourn the victims and will ask, “How could this happen?” Unfortunately, healthcare workers are all too often the victims of workplace violence. It’s a puzzling reality that begs for solutions. More often, healthcare workers including nurses are the front-liners that care for the victims of violent acts such as mass shootings. Both scenarios are traumatic for the cared for and the caregivers.

When Alisha Cornell, DNP, RN, heard about the shooting of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, she was overwhelmed with emotion.

Alisha Cornell, RN

The former trauma nurse was transported to her days at the bedside when she faced unexpected tragedies: patients who had been involved in serious accidents, violent attacks, or other events.

“When I experience a triggering event, it feels like the shootings are happening around me at that moment,” said Cornell.

Nurses throughout the country have been affected by the news of recent mass shootings, including the deaths of 10 Black shoppers at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, New York, on May 14. Two weeks later, three hospital staff and one patient died in a shooting on the Saint Francis Hospital campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“For nurses with young children, nurses of color, or nurses working in hospital systems like the one in Tulsa, just hearing about these events can cause some secondary or vicarious trauma,” said Nellie Galindo, MSW, MSPH, a Product Marketing Manager for Relias who specializes in trauma-informed strategies. “That’s why it’s so important for nurse supervisors to be aware of the symptoms of secondary trauma and burnout.”

These symptoms include feeling disconnected or distant from patients and co-workers, nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety, oversleeping, or feeling overly lethargic.

Felicia Sadler, RN

“The recent tragedies have highlighted the need for meaningful strategies to halt these events,” said Felicia Sadler, MJ, BSN, RN, CPHQ, Vice President of Quality for Relias, who has experience as an ICU nurse. “Violence in healthcare comes in many forms — both inside and outside our four walls.”

Violence in the Workplace

Although nurses were not involved in the recent mass shootings, they are at risk of experiencing violence from patients, former employees, people who have a personal relationship with them, or perpetrators who have no association with the nurse or healthcare facility. The rate of workplace injuries as a result of violence is higher among healthcare workers than any other profession.

The incidence of violence against hospital employees has increased since the onset of the pandemic, with …read more

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