Clinicians experience trauma when childbirth goes wrong

Clinicians experience trauma when childbirth goes wrong

At the same time, health care workers say that complications in the delivery room can make them reflect more on the meaning of life and help them to become better professionals.

Medical mistakes can cause trauma for patients and relatives, but when things go wrong, whether due to errors or not, health professionals can be profoundly affected.

Even negative outcomes that result from unavoidable circumstances can leave clinicians feeling personally responsible.

In 2000, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) produced a report, “To Err Is Human,” which initiated a move away from a blame culture toward one that would encourage disclosure and learning after adverse events.

Promotion of this approach has included perinatal audits, obstetric skills training and debriefings aimed at improving procedures and preventing future incidents.

49% feel guilt, 65% learn from the experience

Katja Schrøder, of the University of Southern Denmark, and colleagues wanted to learn more about the impact of traumatic childbirth on clinicians’ mental health and their professional and personal identities.

They invited Danish obstetricians and midwives to complete a questionnaire and participate in interviews.

Of 1,237 respondents, 85% had been involved in a traumatic childbirth, in which severe and possibly fatal injuries resulting from labor and delivery were experienced by the mother or the infant.

While employees feared, and sometimes experienced, blame by patients, peers or official authorities, greater still were their personal struggles with guilt and existential issues.

The traumatic delivery induced feelings of guilt in 49% of respondents, 50% said that it made them think more about the meaning of life, while 65% felt that they had become a better professional as a result.