Second Victim Experience

Who is a Second Victim?

It’s not uncommon to read an EMS journal and learn about a provider who has taken their own life. Perhaps the suicide, or attempted suicide, of a co-worker has impacted you during your career. Unfortunately, depression and suicide among healthcare professionals traumatized by adverse events occur too often and touch many lives and organizations.

Historically, EMS leaders have worked hard to encourage injury prevention and promote the benefits of a balanced diet and regular exercise, but incidents which challenge a providers’ emotional resiliency after an unexpected outcome are usually not discussed as openly. Much of this has to do with a culture of EMS providers not wanting to appear weak or vulnerable.  EMS providers rely on emotional resilience to help get them through the day. Accumulated stress or unanticipated events can take a toll on this emotional resiliency, leaving a provider susceptible to depression and self-doubt as an EMS professional. When this happens to a provider, they become a second victim of the event.

Most health care providers adjust well to the multitude of demands encountered during an unexpected or traumatic clinical event. Providers often have strong emotional defenses that carry them through and let them “get the job done.” Yet sometimes the emotional aftershock (or stress reaction) can be difficult. Signs and symptoms of this emotional aftershock may last a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or longer.

Second victims are “healthcare providers who are involved in an unanticipated adverse patient event, medical error and/or a patient related injury and become victimized in the sense that the provider is traumatized by the event.”

Frequently, Second Victims…

  • Feel personally responsible for the unexpected patient outcomes
  • Feel as though they have failed the patient Second-guess their clinical skills
  • Second-guess their knowledge base

Second Victim Fast Facts

  • Each second victim (even those involved in the same event) will have unique experiences and needs
  • Regardless of job title, providers respond in predictable manners. The six stages of second victim recovery explain how the second victim is impacted by the clinical event.
  • There are some events that are high risk for inducing a second victim response
  • First tendency of providers is self isolation
  • Providers tend to ‘worry’ in a predictable pattern
  • Sometimes the entire team is impacted by a clinical event

CPS supports the Second Victim Program as another component on the path to culture improvement. While we often focus on the impact on family members of patients experiencing an adverse event, the care of our providers following an event is equally important.

Educational & Training Programs

In collaboration with the University of Missouri Health System Second Victim Program, the Center for Patient Safety supports the Second Victim Program and offers a day-long train-the-trainer program. The workshop from MU Health Care offers a way to learn more about the program developed in part by one of their own staff, Sue Scott, PhD, RN, Manager-Patient Safety and Risk Management at University of Missouri Health Care.

Check for upcoming webinars or workshop locations and dates.

The workshops provide insight into the experience as well as interventions of support and provide instruction so that each participant returns to their organization with the knowledge, skills, and techniques necessary to support and train their peers.

Learn More

“EMS providers are the backbone of the healthcare system. Their ability to respond by bringing their best to work every day is critical to effective care. Yet these individuals face stress and tragedy that few outside their world can imagine. If the industry ignores the mental health of individual providers , it will lose the best resources.”
– Kathy Wire, JD, MHA, CPHRM, Project Manager for the Center for Patient Safety.

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The Center for Patient Safety believes that collaboration and sharing are the best ways to drive improvement. We strive to provide the right solutions and resources to improve healthcare safety and quality.