Research has shown that professionals who serve trauma victims often suffer PTSD symptoms transferred to them through vicarious exposure. This study focused on determining if physicians, a previously unexamined population, experience vicarious traumatization also. Twenty-two male and 15 female physicians from twenty states ranging in age from 32 to 70 with a mean of 20 years experience in diverse medical fields completed and returned survey packets initially mailed to 400 physicians randomly selected from public listings across 20 states. Packets contained a demographic questionnaire and the Impact of Events Scale-Revised (Weiss & Marmar, 1997), which addressed psychological symptoms of PTSD, exposure to traumatic material, work environment details, and personal characteristics. The results supported the hypothesis that vicarious traumatization symptoms are present in physicians. Scores above the cutoff point for a probable diagnosis of PTSD included 13.5% of participants. Additionally 5.4% had scores considered to be of clinical concern. Physicians who reported a larger ratio of trauma to non-trauma caseloads had a significantly higher incident of PTSD symptoms (r = .645, p < .01). Debriefing with colleagues, discussion in supervision, and case presentation opportunities were entered into a multiple regression analysis. The model accounted for 55% of the variance in PTSD symptoms (R = .743, R2= .553, adjusted R2 = .480, F(5,31) = 7.658,p = =<.01). Constructivist self-development theory
(McCann & Pearlman, 1991) offers a framework for identifying and interpreting the trauma response observed in these results. The symptoms physicians do exhibit occur because of the interaction between the physicians’ salient psychological needs and the
meaning he or she ascribes to the patient’s traumatic event. The lack of reported symptoms in some of the participants appeared to be a reluctance to disclose symptom presence or an inability to make an association between their feelings and their patients’
trauma, since the IES-R score was different that what would be expected based upon the information participants disclosed on the narrative questions. A difference in the results between physicians and other professionals may be that of personality traits that attract physicians to their profession or a by-product of their medical training.
School of Science and Technology
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Countertransference (Psychology); Professional-Patient Relations; Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic -- psychology; Physicians -- psychology; Burnout, Professional.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
McNamara, Janice Kathee, "Are Vicarious Traumatization Symptoms Present in Physicians?" (2010). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1573.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives