“Taking Its Toll”: The Challenges of Working in Fetal Medicine

Authors

  • Melody A. Menezes PhD, GDipGenetCouns, BSc(Hons),

    Postdoctoral Research Office
    1. Genetics Education and Health Research Department, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Jan M. Hodgson PhD, GDipGenetCouns, RGN,

    Senior Lecturer, Project Manager
    1. Genetics Education and Health Research Department, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia
    2. Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Margaret Sahhar BA,

    Course Coordinator, Senior Social Worker
    1. Victorian Clinical Genetics Service, Melbourne, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Sylvia A. Metcalfe PhD, BSc(Hons)

    Professor, Group Leader, Corresponding author
    1. Master of Genetic Counselling at the Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
    • Genetics Education and Health Research Department, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author

  • This research was supported by the Shepherd Foundation, Melbourne, Victoria, and the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Address correspondence to: Sylvia Metcalfe, PhD, Genetics Education and Health Research, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Royal Children's Hospital, Flemington Road, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia.

Abstract

Background

Advances in genetic technologies have resulted in the diagnosis during pregnancy of increasing numbers of fetal abnormalities. A few published personal commentaries have indicated that health professionals' interactions with couples at risk of a fetal abnormality can be emotionally and ethically challenging, highlighting the need for empirical research in this area. This study sought to explore whether working in the fetal medicine setting has an effect on health professionals and to ascertain any supports used to manage these effects.

Methods

In-depth interviews were conducted with 40 medical and allied health professionals working in fetal medicine settings in Melbourne, Australia. Qualitative analysis of the interview data was performed using thematic analysis.

Results

Participants discussed at length the emotional impact of working with patients who were experiencing adverse pregnancy outcomes. All participants reported that working in fetal medicine had an impact on their daily lives, and many spoke about dreaming about or losing sleep over patient outcomes. Participants described working in this setting as being particularly difficult when they were pregnant themselves. Most spoke about feeling largely unsupported in their work and felt that these effects resulted in burnout and staff turnover.

Conclusions

This study explored several work force concerns in fetal medicine. Health professionals working with couples at risk of a fetal abnormality are vulnerable to the phenomena of compassion fatigue and burnout. The need for formal support and self-care management is suggested. (BIRTH 40:1 March 2013)

Ancillary