Supporting involved health care professionals (second victims) following an adverse health event: a literature review

Int J Nurs Stud. 2013 May;50(5):678-87. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Jul 28.


Background: One out of seven patients is involved in an adverse event. The first priority after such an event is the patient and their family (first victim). However the involved health care professionals can also become victims in the sense that they are traumatized after the event (second victim). They can experience significant personal and professional distress. Second victims use different coping strategies in the aftermath of an adverse event, which can have a significant impact on clinicians, colleagues, and subsequent the patients. It is estimated that nearly half of health care providers experience the impact as a second victim at least once in their career. Because of this broad impact it is important to offer support.

Objective: The focus of this review is to identify supportive interventional strategies for second victims.

Study design: An extensive search was conducted in the electronic databases Medline, Embase and Cinahl. We searched from the start data of each database until September 2010.

Results: A total of 21 research articles and 10 non-research articles were identified in this literature review. There are numerous supportive actions for second victims described in the literature. Strategies included support organized at the individual, organizational, national or international level. A common intervention identified support for the health care provider to be rendered immediately. Strategies on organizational level can be separated into programs specifically aimed at second victims and more comprehensive programs that include support for all individuals involved in the adverse event including the patient, their family, the health care providers, and the organization.

Conclusion: Second victim support is needed to care for health care workers and to improve quality of care. Support can be provided at the individual and organizational level. Programs need to include support provided immediately post adverse event as well as on middle long and long term basis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Stress, Psychological