Exploring psychological trauma management among paramedics in Gauteng
Maritz, Barend Petrus Gerhardus
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Emergency medical personnel, or paramedics, are daily exposed to dangerous, hazardous and life-threating events. Constantly on a day to day basis, these medical professionals deal with various incidents that can be seen as traumatising events. These traumatic incidents often lead to psychological trauma, and the lack of a well-developed and aimed trauma management programme, may enhance negative working performance and coping within the working environment. Organisations employing paramedics should therefore have a well-established trauma management programme (TMP) available for employees, in order to help them process these daily trauma experiences. If a TMP is lacking within the emergency setting, possible consequences for paramedics include low work performance and productivity, turnover intension, and Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Emergency personnel such as paramedics form a vital part in the pre-hospital environment, and it is therefore necessary that organisations take proper care regarding their employees. The general objective entailed exploring psychological trauma, and the experience of a trauma management programme among paramedics. During this study, a qualitative research approach was utilised directed with a case study strategy. The sample consisted of 20 paramedics from which all were qualified and permanently employed for more than two months. The paramedics were classified as Advanced Life Support (ALS), Intermediate Life Support (ILS) and Basic Life Support (BLS). All of the participants resided in the Gauteng province, from different organisations and branches. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in order to investigate in-depth the paramedic’s perspective regarding this phenomenon. The responses from participants were transcribed verbatim, and analysed in order to report on the findings. It was established from the findings that paramedics experience trauma as an event that negatively affected their lives. These events were mainly due to abnormal scenes they were exposed to such as witnessing premature death, deceased people, suicide, deaths and injuries related to motor vehicle accidents and accidents in general. Paramedics indicated that TMPs are available in some cases within their working environment. These TMPs mainly consisted of counselling, however most of the participants did not make use of TMPs, when they were available. In other cases, there were no existence of any TMP, and that paramedics indicated that they mostly prefer to utilise their own coping mechanisms. This was strange because the main recommendations made by the paramedics regarding TMPs in the workplace, were the implementation of group debriefings and (face to face) counselling services. In summary, it was therefore noted that organisations should invest in a well-aimed, well-developed TMP, designed for the paramedic field, taking into consideration the South African context. As mentioned by the paramedics, an effective TMP must include on-site face to face counselling, group debriefing sessions, awareness programmes, multiple stressor programmes, efficient job-preparation and regular training, sufficient resources, sufficient leave/rest days, hobbies, and talking/socialising with peers. This study furthermore contributes to the conceptualisation regarding trauma management and psychological trauma, specifically in the emergency services field. This study will also enhance awareness regarding these concept mentioned above, in order to take necessary care of their workforce. Therefore, if paramedic organisations implement an effective TMP, enhancement of well-being in the environment will be evident, and this will ensure an optimal functioning working environment. In addition, this study contributes to the current literature regarding trauma management among paramedics, specifically within the South African environment.
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