Dallas shooting: The impact of traumatic events on physicians' mental health

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Clinicians are on the front lines of traumatic events, like the recent shooting at a protest in Dallas which led to the deaths of five police officers, and those experiences may have a significant impact on their mental health.

Alan Jones, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, and his wife, Ann Marie Warren, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist at the same hospital, teamed up to study the impact of trauma on healthcare providers, according to an article in The Dallas Morning News. The pair found that 20 percent of surgeons had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and about two-thirds had at least one symptom of secondary traumatic stress.

These surgeons may never treat patients like the Dallas shooting victims, Jones told the newspaper, but the day-to-day experiences on the job may evoke similar stress. “Every day I see people on the worst day of their lives,” he said.

Jones treated Shetamia Taylor, who was shot in the leg shielding her children from gunfire during the shooting, and said that once her injuries were treated, his role called for him to provide emotional support for her as well. “I’ve learned that more than the kind of plate I use or how the bone heals, what really makes a difference is emotional support,” he told The Morning News. “As surgeons, we’re beginning to understand this.”

The trauma team at Baylor University Medical Center did not have much time to prepare for the influx of patients after the shooting, according to a second Dallas Morning News article. Stephen Burgher, M.D., a physician in the hospital’s ER who led the team on the night of the shooting, likened it to his experiences as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Physicians first began to stabilize the critically injured, and those not in need of critical care were sent elsewhere in the emergency department to make room for the most seriously injured, according to the article. Additional doctors were called in to organize the intake of patients and to triage those coming in for treatment. In the wake of a string of mass shootings across the nation, hospitals train staff to prepare for a potential event of this size, FierceHealthcare previously reported, and the response can be used as a model for other hospitals in the future.

Burgher told the Dallas Morning News that, even with training and planning, a hospital can never be completely prepared for such a situation. “It’s one thing to drill and practice it, and it’s another thing to do it,” he told the newspaper. “It was like a war zone, so you have to get that mindset.”

- read the first article
- here’s the second Dallas Morning News story