Selecting a measure for assessing secondary trauma in nurses
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Selecting a measure for assessing secondary trauma in nurses

Jenny Watts Teaching assistant, HAK International, Klagenfurt, Austria
Noelle Robertson Research director – clinical section, School of Psychology, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

Aim To summarise the usefulness of available psychometric tools in assessing secondary trauma in nursing staff and examine their limitations, as well as their strengths, to enable researchers to select the most suitable measures.

Background Secondary trauma is an extreme persistent reaction that can be experienced by nursing staff following exposure to a potentially life-threatening situation. This relatively new concept is increasingly used to explore staff distress, but is complicated by various definitions. In this growing and popular field, few rigorously tested measures are used. Therefore, it is timely to examine the measures available and their robustness.

Data sources In March 2014 the following databases were used: BNI, CINAHL, EMBASE, PILOTS, Medline, PsycINFO and the Cochrane Library.

Review methods A systematic search of nurse and health research databases was conducted from 1980 to 2014 using the terms nurs* AND PTSD OR Posttraumatic Stress Disorder OR secondary trauma OR secondary traumatic stress OR STS OR compassion fatigue.

Discussion To strengthen confidence in research findings and make the most useful contribution to practice, researchers should use the most rigorous measures available. Of the assessment tools used, the only one subject to robust peer review is the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS). The scale most frequently used to assess secondary traumatic stress is the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL); its lack of psychometric evaluation is a potential weakness.

Conclusion The STSS is the only validated tool reported in the peer-reviewed, published literature and the authors suggest greater application when secondary trauma is a suspected consequence of nursing work. Validated tools such as the HADS and GHQ-28 are more useful in assessing broader-based psychological morbidity.

Implications for research/practice The authors suggest greater application of the STSS when secondary trauma is a suspected consequence of nursing work. Researchers interested in assessing more than trauma responses are advised to use HADS and GHQ-28.

Nurse Researcher. 23, 2, 30-35. doi: 10.7748/nr.23.2.30.s7

Peer review

This article has been subject to double-blind review and checked using antiplagiarism software

Conflict of interest

None declared

Received: 23 June 2014

Accepted: 19 May 2015

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