Beyond the Bandages, Nurses Treat Trauma

Jan 23 2015

Beyond the Bandages, Nurses Treat Trauma


Pediatric nurses play a key role in preventing injury-related post-traumatic stress by providing trauma-informed care.

It’s no surprise that nurses know trauma. With roughly 2.7 million nurses working in the U.S., versus about 900,000 physicians (according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, respectively), nurses are on the front line of clinical care. Nurses are very often the first clinical staff patients meet, and do everything from performing triage and physical exams to conducting research.

Indeed, a recent study from CHOP and Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing confirms that pediatric trauma nurses are knowledgeable about practicing trauma-informed care, but points to the need for additional nurse training to help families cope after a child’s injury.

When an injury occurs, both the child and family members may experience traumatic stress reactions interfering with a full recovery. Pediatric nurses play a key role in preventing injury-related post-traumatic stress by providing trauma-informed care, which includes recognizing pre-existing trauma, addressing stress associated with the traumatic event, minimizing potentially traumatic aspects of treatment, and identifying children who need additional monitoring or referrals for more help.

Researchers surveyed nurses across five trauma centers about their knowledge, opinions, and current practices in addressing psychological recovery in their injured patients. More than 90 percent of the nurses surveyed recognize the importance of attending to psychosocial needs as part of trauma nursing care, and 75 to 80 percent report that they encourage parents to turn to family and friends for support and help parents manage a child’s pain and anxiety during procedures. However, fewer nurses surveyed reported directly assessing a child or parent’s distress or providing specific instruction in how to cope with difficult or painful experiences.

“When a child is hospitalized for an injury, nurses play a key role not only in medical care, but also in helping families cope and fully recover emotionally,” said Nancy Kassam-Adams, PhD, director of CHOP’s Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress. “Taken together with other recent studies that found only one in five trauma centers routinely screen child and youth for traumatic stress responses, these results help to identify gaps in current practice and point to possible policy and training needs.”

The results of this survey suggest that efforts to improve trauma-informed pediatric nursing care should highlight specific skills related to helping patients and their parents manage emotional responses to difficult medical experiences.

In a blog post about the study published on the Center for Research and Injury’s blog, CHOP nurse Christie Alminde, RN, CPN notes nurses’ skills and experiences are “well suited to provide excellent trauma-informed care.”

“When we incorporate an understanding of traumatic stress into our routine interactions with children and families, we can provide trauma-informed nursing care that not only reduces the impact of difficult or frightening medical events for our pediatric patients, but also helps with their emotional reactions to illness and injury,” writes Alminde.

For more information and resources about medical traumatic stress, see the Center for Pediatric Trauma Stress. And to learn more about this study, see the full press release.