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Few people are aware that some 30 % of professional caregivers during their careers may experience Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS).  STS, also referred to as Compassion Fatigue or Vicarious Trauma, is a significant mental and physical health condition somewhat similar to, but usually less severe than,  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD).  Engaged in empathic relationships with their traumatized patients or clients, caring professionals may absorb varying degrees of the traumas to which they are exposed,  with symptoms such as: grief; anxiety; panic attacks; intense anger; resentment; poor concentration; intrusive thoughts (flashbacks); nightmares; memory problems; appetite fluctuations; extreme fatigue; nausea; dizziness; rapid heartbeat, and antisocial activities.
Left untreated these work-related stressors can lead excellent, yet vulnerable, professional caregivers and public servants to develop dysfunctional behaviors in servicing patients or clients or to leave their chosen fields of practice prematurely.  These departures may result in serious voids in many of our health care facilities.  Patients/clients lose their seasoned professionals and training costs may rise because of staff turnover.
Prevalence Rates of STS in the following professions are estimated as follows:
Child welfare workers – 34+%
Clinical Social Workers (Therapists) – 15%
Substance Abuse Counselors – 19%
Nurses – 7 – 20%
Nurses who work in emergency rooms—85%
Hospice Nurses—34%
Ambulance paramedics—25%
Firefighters, Law enforcement Officers, Medical First Responders – 7-20 %

Related Literature

1. “Secondary Trauma and the Child Welfare Workforce” Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare:  CW 360, Spring 2012.
2.  Mathieu, Francoise (2007).  “Running on Empty:  Compassion Fatigue in Health Professions” Rehab and Community Care Medicine, Spring Volume 2007 and

3.  Von Rueden, et al. (2010).  Secondary Traumatic Stress in Trauma Nurses:  Prevalence and Exposure, Coping and Personal/Environmental Characteristics. Journal of Trauma Nursing. 17, 4:  191-200.

4.  McFarlane, A.C., Williamson, P, and Barton, C.A. (2009). “The Impact of TraumaticStressors in Civilian Occupational Settings”.  Journal of Public Health Policy. 30:  3, 311-327.

5.   Bride, B.E. and Figley, C.R. (2009).  “Secondary Trauma and Military Veteran Caregivers”. Smith College Studies in Social Work. 79: 314-329.

6.     Beck, C. (2011).Secondary Traumatic Stress in Nurses: A Systematic Review. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 25(1), 1-10. Retrieved from

7. Hooper, et al. (2010). Compassion Satisfaction, Burnout, and Compassion Fatigue Among Emergency Nurses Compared With Nurses in Other Selected Inpatient Specialties. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 36(5), 420-427. Retrieved from

8. Figley, Charles R. (1995). Compassion Fatigue:  Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized.  Brunner/Mazel, Inc. New York: New York.

Following is a sample of recent public or professional media articles and/or podcasts in this field

• CAREgivers film featured in “Compassion Fatigue a growing concern” by Paul R. Pace in NASH NEWS (January, 2014) at

• Vic Compher’s 30 minute radio interview on “Boomer Generation” with host Richard Address – Scroll to April 13, 2013 at:

•”Philly Cops are used to tragedy. But 6 kids shot in a month can crack their ‘emotional shell’ ”

.”Death by Train”

.”Face of Prevention Point leaves after 25 years:  ‘The trauma was starting to take its toll’ ”

.“ Michigan kids are going to school traumatized—and teachers lack training, resources to help”

.Advent Health University (online) Article about STS:


•  “Stress First Aid for Firefighters” – a new program at Philadelphia Fire Department to address secondary/ primary trauma:

•  Dr. Michael Baime, head of the Penn Program for Mindfulness.” – Podcast at:

•  The following compelling article describes secondary trauma/ compassion fatigue experienced in context of veterinary services in Australia and elsewhere

•  Many examples of courage, of compassion satisfaction and secondary trauma. Check out this NY Times front page article and photos

•  In an interview with Dan Gottlieb, Dr. Tony Buchanan of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Stress Lab from the Psychology  Department of Saint Louis University talks about his study on secondhand stress with Dr. Michael Baime, head of the Penn Program for Mindfulness.” podcast at:

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