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J Midwifery Womens Health. 2015 Jan-Feb;60(1):16-23. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12221. Epub 2015 Jan 20.

A mixed-methods study of secondary traumatic stress in certified nurse-midwives: shaken belief in the birth process.



Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is an occupational hazard for clinicians who can experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from exposure to their traumatized patients. The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to determine the prevalence and severity of STS in certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) and to explore their experiences attending traumatic births.


A convergent, parallel mixed-methods design was used. The American Midwifery Certification Board sent out e-mails to all their CNM members with a link to the SurveyMonkey study. The STS Scale was used to collect data for the quantitative strand. For the qualitative strand, participants were asked to describe their experiences of attending one or more traumatic births. IBM SPSS 21.0 (Version 21.0, Armonk, NY) was used to analyze the quantitative data, and Krippendorff content analysis was the method used to analyze the qualitative data.


The sample consisted of 473 CNMs who completed the quantitative portion and 246 (52%) who completed the qualitative portion. In this sample, 29% of the CNMs reported high to severe STS, and 36% screened positive for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition diagnostic criteria for PTSD due to attending traumatic births. The top 3 types of traumatic births described by the CNMs were fetal demise/neonatal death, shoulder dystocia, and infant resuscitation. Content analysis revealed 6 themes: 1) protecting my patients: agonizing sense of powerlessness and helplessness; 2) wreaking havoc: trio of posttraumatic stress symptoms; 3) circling the wagons: it takes a team to provide support … or not; 4) litigation: nowhere to go to unburden our souls; (5) shaken belief in the birth process: impacting midwifery practice; and 6 moving on: where do I go from here?


The midwifery profession should acknowledge STS as a professional risk.


certified nurse-midwives; mixed methods; secondary traumatic stress

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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