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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02305

Deconstructing traumatic mission experiences: Identifying critical incidents and their relevance for the mental and physical health among emergency medical service personnel

  • 1Department of Clinical & Biological Psychology, Institute of Psychology and Education, Faculty of Engineering, Computer Science and Psychology, University of Ulm, Germany
  • 2Institute of Psychology and Education, Faculty of Engineering, Computer Science and Psychology, University of Ulm, Germany

Emergency medical service (EMS) personnel frequently encounter emotionally stressful or even traumatic incidents in their line of duty. In this study, a checklist of emotionally stressful events for the German EMS was introduced. A mixed-method approach was used to identify mission events that were critical for the development of mental and physical stress symptoms. Data were collected in a cross-sectional sample of 102 EMS employees. A quantitative content analysis of the participants’ worst experiences on duty indicated, traumatic missions to be a concatenation of two to five emotionally stressful events. Rescue missions were experienced as traumatic if (i) EMS personnel became victims of attacks or threats; (ii) certain circumstances caused them to give up their professional detachment from patients; (iii) EMS personnel perceived the overall mission as exceptionally tragic. In subsequent correlation analyses, the corresponding checklist items showed consistent positive associations with the posttraumatic, depressive and physical stress symptoms among the study cohort. Within the exploratory regressions, the sum score of critical on-duty exposures contributed incrementally to the prediction of mental and physical stress symptoms when nonwork-related trauma exposure and perceived social support were also considered. Findings point towards the importance of considering the cumulative burden of critical incidents for the long-term health of EMS personnel. Future research is needed to investigate, how on-duty trauma affects the social support EMS personnel received from their work and personal relationships.

Keywords: Ambulance personnel, paramedics, Critical Incident (CI), Occupational stress and mental-physical health, Secondary traumatic stress (sts), detached concern, Vicarious Traumatisation, compassion fatigue

Received: 17 Jul 2019; Accepted: 27 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Behnke, Rojas, Karrasch, Hitzler and Kolassa. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Alexander Behnke, Department of Clinical & Biological Psychology, Institute of Psychology and Education, Faculty of Engineering, Computer Science and Psychology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany, alexander.behnke@uni-ulm.de