Research In Action
Research In Action
July 1 is a nerve-wracking date for new medical residents. On this day, hospitals welcome these new trainees to begin the next chapter of their careers. Although my own beginning of residency was met with nothing but support from my new hospital “family” of co-trainees and faculty, I do recall closing my eyes and taking a deep breath before putting my hand on the doorknob of a patient’s room to begin rounds. I recited to myself, “You are DOCTOR Ortiz now,” and I entered the room.
Although my first patient was discharged a few days later, not all of my patients fared as well. The following years were not only met with awe and inspiration, but also were often intermixed with the pain of witnessing suffering and the struggle to gracefully accept my own shortcomings as I continued to progress and learn.
As I began my residency, I wish that I had been given the tools to prevent secondary traumatic stress for healthcare providers and to prevent post traumatic stress for children and families now provided by the Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress (CPTS). The Center aims to reduce pediatric medical traumatic stress through promoting trauma-informed care, disseminating evidence-based practices and screening tools to pediatric healthcare providers, and training healthcare providers to recognize and address traumatic stress in children.
Through Healthcare Toolbox.org, CPTS provides resources on pediatric traumatic stress for providers and families. CPTS offers free online continuing education on pediatric medical traumatic stress, workbooks and handouts for patients and families, and simple activities and exercises providers can practice with their patients, such as processing painful experiences and creating a return to home plan after hospital discharge.
Learning to Manage Secondary Traumatic Stress
In responding to the pain and distress of children and families facing recovery after injury, the research suggests that the ability to identify, understand and manage one’s emotional reactions, and to integrate effective self-care strategies are paramount to preventing and/or managing secondary traumatic stress for healthcare staff.
These strategies may be as simple as the deep breath and mantra I used before entering my first July 1 patient room, as intricate as deeply reflecting on your own mission and purpose in the pursuit of medical training, or any number of practices in between. I have personally benefited from, for example, maintaining a debrief journal for processing challenging cases (secure and void of identifiable information, of course), as well as a “mission statement” document that I’ve gone to over the course of my training and career development to ground me in my purpose and ability to cope through challenging patient encounters.
Importantly, self-care in the face of secondary traumatic stress also involves identifying how and when to seek help and support. If you’re a new medical resident, reach out to your program leadership or hospital Human Resources Department to inquire about often free available services to help address, and prevent, vicarious trauma.
For new medical residents and trainees, or anyone interested in preventing and managing secondary traumatic stress, access these free resources from CPTS:
- a new free online course on secondary traumatic stress
- a slide set on secondary traumatic stress to share with your team
- quick tools for coping with stress related to COVID-19
- information about the Stress-Less Initiative to share with your team