Secondary Traumatic Stress in NICU Nurses: A Mixed-Methods Study

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Abstract

Background:

Secondary traumatic stress is an occupational hazard for healthcare providers who care for patients who have been traumatized. This type of stress has been reported in various specialties of nursing, but no study to date had specifically focused on neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses.

Purpose:

(1) To determine the prevalence and severity of secondary traumatic stress in NICU nurses and (2) to explore those quantitative findings in more depth through nurses' qualitative descriptions of their traumatic experiences caring for critically ill infants in the NICU.

Methods:

Members of NANN were sent e-mails with a link to the electronic survey. In this mixed-methods study, a convergent parallel design was used. Neonatal nurses completed the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS) and then described their traumatic experiences caring for critically ill infants in the NICU. SPSS version 24 and content analysis were used to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data, respectively.

Results:

In this sample of 175 NICU nurses, 49% of the nurses' scores on the STSS indicated moderate to severe secondary traumatic stress. Analysis of the qualitative data revealed 5 themes that described NICU nurses' traumatic experiences caring for critically ill infants.

Implications for Practice:

NICU nurses need to know the signs of secondary traumatic stress that they may experience caring for their critically ill infants. Avenues for dealing with the stress should be provided.

Implications for Research:

Future research with a higher response rate to increase the external validity of the findings to the population of neonatal nurses is needed.

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