Surgeons at Risk for “Second Victim Syndrome”

April 16, 2024

Nearly half of all healthcare professionals will experience "second victim syndrome" (SVS) at least once in their career. SVS refers to the trauma experienced by a healthcare professional after a medical complication or error. Some specialties are exposed to SVS more than others, including surgery, anesthesia, pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology.

For some, it brings prolonged emotional consequences that affects both their professional and personal lives. The consequences can be psychological, such as guilt, shame, anxiety, grief or depression. Other effects include lack of empathy, burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Surgeons face stressful situations and technical challenges daily, making them especially susceptible to SVS. A recent analysis examined published international data on SVS in surgical settings. The most described negative feelings were guilt, depression, anxiety, frustration and embarrassment. Most of the reported negative feelings lasted between one week and one month after the event and were more pronounced in female surgeons and those who practice in aesthetic surgery. SVS impaired professional performance, led to avoidance behaviors and often had medical-legal or disciplinary implications.

ISMIE’s Wellness Center offers a variety of resources to help policyholders take care of themselves during challenging times. The Center offers on-demand courses related to experiencing shame after a medical error, moral injury and burnout.

Log on today for these important resources.

For more information, please contact the Risk Management Division by email.

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