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Aug-03-2009 13:12printcomments

PTSD Epidemic in Nurses and Doctors

Their PTSD is as bad as Combat Infantry.

Photos of American doctors and nurses in Afghanistan in the winter of 2006
Photos of American doctors and nurses in Afghanistan in the winter of 2006. photos by Tim King

(MOLALLA, Ore.) - Thousands have read my PTSD articles in (see PTSD Leveque) and hundreds have emailed comments and questions.

Because of the severe epidemic of PTSD in the Marines and Army, of which I am a member, I have concentrated on that. The Army and VA estimate of PTSD battle veterans seems to be at least 400 thousand which is an awfully frightening number. A few nurses, doctors and child abuse victims have emailed me and asked why I haven’t written about them.

Last night I saw a rerun of a Grey’s Anatomy TV show in which one of their surgeons had been a trauma surgeon in the Iraq war.

One of the Surgical Residents asked him what was his most memorable surgery. He blanched and choked and walked away.

Later he told her his patient caught a grenade in the belly and was held together by strings of flesh. This surgeon put the patient “together” and he was sent home. A few months later the patient wrote the surgeon a letter thanking him for saving his life, then he took a pistol and blew his brains out.


I have taken care of at least 1000 PTSD battle vets. I never did have to suture one back together but I get the picture.

My daughter, Dominique, is a Nurse Practitioner (NP). When she got her RN (first) she telephoned her nurse mother and myself proudly and said she had two offers: one in Surgical Oncology (cancer) and one in Traumatic Surgery – which should she select?

We both told her neither. “Why not?”, she asked, “Dominique, you’ll burn out in less than two years.” With my daughter’s experience and recent emails, I decided on this story.

I looked up PTSD NURSES. The first article I found was PTSD in ICU (Intesive Care Unit) Nurses. The content did not surprise me. The PTSD in these nurses is about 24%, about the same as it is in Combat Infantry battle veterans.

These nurses are in repeated extreme stress, anxiety, panic, depression, nightmares, alcoholic drinking, anguish and fatigue as are combat veterans. This information was supplied in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine Vol 175 pp 634 – 636 (2007).

One reference was about PTSD in Doctors who take care of cancer patients, HIV/AIDS patients, Anesthesiologists, Internal Medicine Residents and a few others.

While I was a Medical Intern one of the grim black humor jokes among staff doctors was that if at least one Intern per year didn’t attempt suicide, the training program wasn’t tough enough (the SOB’s).

Another similar article I read was that 300-400 or maybe even 500 doctors per year committed suicide. I knew from my own professional experience that doctors have a high rate of alcoholics, drug abusers, addictions and divorces, but the suicide rate made me cringe.

I did know that the Oregon Medical Board disciplined about 6 doctors so severely that they committed suicide.

Lets go back to ICU Nurses, they do “burn out” at a higher rate than ANY doctors. The figures are about 17% (per year??) with the result of 114 thousand vacant ICU beds. The nurses say they quit to get into less stressful jobs with far less “scut work”1 .

My daughter was a Pediatric ICU Nurse. She knew more than her less trained supervisors (professionally dangerous). She now works as an Adult NP in a doctors clinic. She likes it better.


1 scut work - trivial, unrewarding, tedious, dirty, and disagreeable chores; "the hospital hired him to do scut work"

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Jim Davis, Veterans-For-Change August 6, 2009 10:28 am (Pacific time)

PTSD is very real not only for those who serve on the battle field, but those who care for them when injured such as the doctors and nurses. Anyone can suffer from PTSD, from a car accident, rape, mugging, robbery. But with those who serve I believe are the worst cases. And more often than not aren't treated when needed, continually have to fight the VA for care and benefits, and more often than not turned down. No one knows what each persons stressor is, could be a smell, car backfire, door slamming closed, a movie, and no one knows what any of those will trigger. Could be something minor like self isolation, to something far more tragic. I feel so badly most of the time for those who wore the uniform, chose to serve our country, and our country, the VA and our government has turned their backs on them.

Daniel Johnson August 5, 2009 7:54 pm (Pacific time)

I'm not surprised. I remember when MASH the movie came out around 1970. I was initially offended by it because I thought it in the poorest of taste to make jokes about war and medicine. I came to the realization later (not from the TV series, though) that black humour is the only way to handle the stress.

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