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Increased Prevalence of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Critical Care Nurses

Meredith L. Mealer , April Shelton , Britt Berg , Barbara Rothbaum, and Marc Moss

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

Medical Research

Media Originally for:

Critical Care Physicians, General Medical Professionals, Nurses and/or Other Critical Care Medical Professionals


Rationale: Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses work in a demanding environment where they are repetitively exposed to traumatic situations and stressful events. The psychological effects on nurses as a result of working in the ICU are relatively unknown.

Objective: To determine whether there is an increased prevalence of psychological symptoms in ICU nurses when compared with general nurses.

Methods: We surveyed ICU and general nurses from three different hospitals (n = 351) and then surveyed ICU nurses throughout the metropolitan area (n = 140).

Measurements and Main Results: In both cohorts of nurses, we determined the prevalence of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression using validated survey instruments. Within our hospital system, 24% (54/230) of the ICU nurses tested positive for symptoms of PTSD related to their work environment, compared with 14% (17/121) of the general nurses (p = 0.03). ICU nurses did not report a greater amount of stress in their life outside of the hospital than general nurses. There was no difference in symptoms of depression or anxiety between ICU and general nurses. In the second survey of ICU nurses from our metropolitan area, 29% (41/140) of the respondents reported symptoms of PTSD, similar to our first cohort of ICU nurses.

Conclusions: ICU nurses have an increased prevalence of PTSD symptoms when compared with other general nurses. These results may increase awareness of these symptoms in nurses and lead to future interventions that improve their mental health and job satisfaction and help retain ICU nurses in their profession.

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