Sheila Bullock

Self-Awareness of PTSD Symptoms and Coping Mechanisms in Critical-Care Nurses

When someone mentions Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the image that comes to mind is that of a soldier scarred by the horrors of war, not that of a nurse at the end of her shift at a hospital. My interest in studying self-awareness of PTSD symptoms in critical-care nurses stems from my own experiences in that field.  Though I was aware of the stressful nature of my position, it was only after taking a break from my career, and applying the education in Psychology I have received at USM, that I made the connection between the stress that my co-workers and I experienced and PTSD.  Critical-care nurses see trauma and death on a daily basis.  They deal with situations that many would find unimaginable.  They often stay within this specialized field for many years, thus compounding the stressors experienced and their results. I began to review literature and learned that PTSD in critical-care nurses has been clearly typified, but we (critical-care nurses) never spoke in those terms amongst ourselves. Nurses are educated on PTSD, but I suspect that, generally speaking, they may not have explicit self-awareness of PTSD symptoms and of the coping mechanisms they may use to deal with them. This lack of self-awareness has not been addressed in the literature and may place ICU nurses at higher risk of related health-issues than other at-risk groups (i.e. soldiers) that may be trained in self-monitoring and coping mechanisms to deal with PTSD.  The results of my SPUR project could be used in designing strategies to deal with this risk and in the development of training programs and professional standards. At a personal level, this research project lies at the center of my intention to pursue graduate studies in an area that combines both psychology and nursing.