Study review draws needed attention to PTSD in nurses

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a growing concern among nurses in inpatient settings, according to a recent review of studies published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Nurse authors analyzed 24 articles for the May 5 review in literature published pre-COVID-19. They found PTSD occurs in nurses worldwide. They also identified factors associated with PTSD in nurses.

“Many people understand that PTSD can happen in those not connected to the military. Literature has noted that PTSD is a growing concern for the nursing professional, as it requires exposure to trauma and suffering,” said Regina D. Owen, DNP, PMHNP-BC, a speaker for’s continuing education courses Post-traumatic stress disorder: Part 1 an Overview and Post-traumatic stress disorder, Part 2: Interventions.

Defining PTSD in nurses

PTSD results from repeated direct and indirect exposure to traumatic events.

Telltale symptoms include intrusive thoughts or reliving events, avoiding situations that remind one of an event, negative changes in thoughts and feelings, as well as hyper-arousal and overreacting to situations, according to the review.

Ongoing exposure to trauma and suffering can lead to symptoms of PTSD and have short- and long-term negative physiological impacts on nurses, according to Owen, who is an assistant professor for the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md.

PTSD’s actual prevalence in nursing, however, remains unclear. The authors hoped to help define PTSD prevalence in inpatient nursing specialties worldwide, instead finding that PTSD prevalence, depending on the study and how it was done, was all over the board.

For example, while more than 95% of psychiatric nurses met the criteria for exposure to PTSD in one study, in another study, 24% of ICU and general acute care nurses reported PTSD symptoms. In still another study, 17% of emergency department nurses had a probable PTSD diagnosis.

PTSD among nurses could be considerably worse, given the authors examined studies from 1999 to 2019, before COVID-19 was on researchers’ radars, according to review author Michelle Schuster, MSN, RN, CPHON, a staff nurse in the inpatient hematology/oncology unit at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Why are nurses at risk?

Michelle Schuster, RN

Schuster experienced PTSD at her first nursing job.

“At the time, I had no idea what it was,” she said. “For a long time, I thought this is just what nursing is like, and I have to get through. But it wasn’t until I started a new job in the same field of pediatric oncology that I then became aware that I was affected so deeply by my past experience.”

Schuster said she and her mentor and coauthor Trisha Dwyer wanted to get the message out and help acknowledge that PTSD is occurring in nurses internationally.

“We really want to help people be more aware that this is happening because once those conversations start, we feel like more effort will be geared toward helping to find or develop and promote interventions that can best support nurses’ well-being, overall,” Schuster said.

The coauthors found four common themes influenced PTSD risk in nurses: “Workplace matters,” “Relationships matter,” “It hurts to care,” …read more

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