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Failed Resuscitations Leave Marks on Nurses

By Jennifer Thew RN  
   March 21, 2017

Critical care nurses who participate in unsuccessful resuscitation attempts report moderate levels of postcode stress and PTSD symptoms, research shows.

Resuscitation attempts in critical care units are not unusual and, unfortunately, not always successful. Often, RNs are involved in these life-saving efforts.

"I was curious to know if there was any published literature on the emotional or psychological consequences on nurses specifically related to resuscitation attempts," says Dawn E. McMeekin, RN, DNP, CNE, advanced clinical education specialist at Baycare Health System in Dunedin, FL.

Published literature on the topic was limited, but McMeekin's recent study, published in the American Journal of Critical Care is shedding some light on the topic.

Its aim was "to explore if participation in an unsuccessful cardiopulmonary resuscitation attempt created a heightened level of stress, referred to as postcode stress, and if coping behaviors individuals utilized influenced the development of a more chronic psychological distress as evidenced by PTSD symptom severity or stress as a result of a traumatic event," McMeekin says.

Additionally, study participants were asked if institutional support in the form of debriefing was available. The relationship between debriefing and the levels of psychological distress was also assessed.

The results of the study were somewhat surprising.

Debriefing's Effectiveness Varies
The study found that when asked to recall an unsuccessful resuscitation, critical care nurses showed moderate levels of postcode stress and PTSD symptoms.

It also found, however, that postcode stress and PTSD symptom severity were weakly associated. In other words, just because a nurse experiences postcode stress, that doesn't mean that he or she will necessarily develop PTSD symptoms.

"I was somewhat surprised that the association between postcode stress and PTSD symptom severity was not stronger," McMeekin says. "Perhaps this demonstrates how critical the coping behaviors are in diminishing the development of chronical psychological distress."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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