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Keywords:

  • burnout;
  • compassion fatigue;
  • healthcare professionals;
  • integrative review;
  • midwives;
  • posttraumatic stress;
  • secondary traumatic stress;
  • traumatic stress

Abstract

Aims

To explore responses to indirect trauma reported by health professionals and to identify issues of potential salience for midwives.

Background

Indirect exposure to a traumatic event can lead to the development of distressing and potentially enduring responses. Little is understood about the impact that perinatal trauma exposure could have on midwives.

Design

An integrative review design was used.

Data sources

PsychInfo, Medline, PsychArticles, Web of Knowledge, CINAHL, MIDIRS and Scopus databases were search for papers published between 1980–November 2012.

Review methods

Studies providing quantitative or qualitative exploration of healthcare professionals' responses to indirectly experienced traumatic events were selected.

Results

Forty-two papers fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Four of these studies included professionals engaged in maternity care or exposed to traumatic perinatal events. Findings indicate evidence of intrusion, avoidance and arousal in healthcare professionals, with differing degrees of frequency. Empathy, work-related stress and the extent of professional experience were identified as associated with traumatic stress responses.

Conclusions

Evidence derived from healthcare professionals suggests that indirect exposure to the traumatic events of recipients of care can sometimes elicit traumatic stress responses. Factors increasing risk for traumatic stress were identified as empathy and organizational stress. These factors hold specific salience in midwifery. Responding to trauma in a midwifery context, as informed by findings from other healthcare professionals, could adversely affect midwives' well-being, care provided to women and contribute to an adverse organizational climate. Large-scale research considering the experiences of midwives is recommended.