For Nurses, Trauma Can Come With the Job

As many as one in four nurses experience PTSD at some point in their careers.

As many as one in four nurses experience PTSD at some point in their careers.

In 1945, Dorothy Still, a nurse in the United States Navy, consulted with a Navy psychiatrist to discuss disturbing symptoms she had actually been experiencing. Miss Still was one of 12 Navy nurses who had been held prisoner of war by the Japanese armed force in the occupied Philippines during World War II. For more than 3 years, Miss Still and the other nurses had provided care to infected, starving and destitute civilian prisoners in a makeshift infirmary at the P.O.W. camp.

In the months after freedom, Miss Still discovered she typically cried without provocation and had trouble stopping her tears. She probably experienced what today we could call post-traumatic stress disorder, however the Navy psychiatrist provided no assistance or options. Rather, he called her a “fake” and a “phony.” Nurses, he declared could not suffer the kind of shell shock from war that sailors or soldiers could.

Mental health professionals now recognize that PTSD can indeed affect nurses, both military and civilian. As lots of as 28 percent of nurses experience PTSD at some time in their careers, stated Meredith Mealer, an associate professor at the Anschutz Medical Campus at the University of Colorado, Denver, though health care companies still frequently struggle to treat it.

“It’s probably enhanced from Dorothy’s experience, but we still have a ways to go,” Dr. Mealer said.

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