Health care professionals as second victims after adverse events: a systematic review

Eval Health Prof. 2013 Jun;36(2):135-62. doi: 10.1177/0163278712458918. Epub 2012 Sep 12.


Adverse events within health care settings can lead to two victims. The first victim is the patient and family and the second victim is the involved health care professional. The latter is the focus of this review. The objectives are to determine definitions of this concept, research the prevalence and the impact of the adverse event on the second victim, and the used coping strategies. Therefore a literature research was performed by using a three-step search procedure. A total of 32 research articles and 9 nonresearch articles were identified. The second victim phenomenon was first described by Wu in 2000. In 2009, Scott et al. introduced a detailed definition of second victims. The prevalence of second victims after an adverse event varied from 10.4% up to 43.3%. Common reactions can be emotional, cognitive, and behavioral. The coping strategies used by second victims have an impact on their patients, colleagues, and themselves. After the adverse event, defensive as well as constructive changes have been reported in practice. The second victim phenomenon has a significant impact on clinicians, colleagues, and subsequent patients. Because of this broad impact it is important to offer support for second victims. When an adverse event occurs, it is critical that support networks are in place to protect both the patient and involved health care providers.

Keywords: adverse events; emotional distress; health care provider; patient safety; second victim.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / psychology*
  • Patient Safety
  • United States