Second Victims in Intensive Care-Emotional Stress and Traumatization of Intensive Care Nurses in Western Austria after Adverse Events during the Treatment of Patients

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Mar 18;19(6):3611. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19063611.


Background: The second victim phenomenon is common among nurses in intensive care units. Apart from quantitative studies, little is known about individual cases among those high-risk groups. This study evaluates the natural history and cause of second victim traumatization in Western Austria for the first time to tailor specific intervention.

Methods: A total of 20 guided interviews were conducted with intensive care nurses in Western Austria. All interviews were transcribed and analyzed with MAXQDA software. Evaluation followed the structuring qualitative content analysis scheme according to Kuckartz.

Results: The most frequent symptoms of the second victim phenomenon reported were feelings of guilt and problems with falling asleep. Coping with the second victim phenomenon was accomplished by conversations in private as well as among work colleagues.

Conclusions: Intensive care nurses are exposed to many exceptional situations which have a high likelihood of resulting in second victim traumatization. As proximal psychosocial support is considered to be a main source of coping, wide-spread implementation of effective psychosocial peer support programs ought to be applied by medical organizations. Patient safety measures such as proactive and reactive clinical risk management (e.g., CIRS) should be linked to second victim support.

Keywords: coping strategies; intensive care; patient safety; risk management; second victim; support programs.

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Critical Care
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors*
  • Patient Safety
  • Psychological Distress*