Deployed Combat Medical Personnel Vulnerable to PTSD

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Medical personnel returning from combat deployment experience rates of posttraumatic stress disorder only slightly below those of returning soldiers, a study has shown.

Nearly 16% of medical personnel from one U.S. military hospital who had been deployed to the setting of large-scale, ongoing, armed conflict reported symptoms consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a voluntary, anonymous survey, said Tonya T. Kolkow, M.D., of Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Whether a consequence of their exposure to battle scenes and wounded soldiers or a concern for their own safety and potential injury, "these individuals experience rates of PTSD somewhat comparable with that of returning soldiers who have engaged in battle," she said. Previous studies have estimated that 15%-20% of combat troops returning from war experience PTSD.

"Medical personnel who provide care in the field and in field hospitals comprise a unique group of individuals with their own distinct trauma exposure," Dr. Kolkow said in a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

"Their training and experience with combat situations is likely to be more limited than that of military operational personnel, while their experience with exposure to illness, trauma, and death may be more extensive," she noted.

To better understand the effects of war on medical personnel, including physicians, nurses, enlisted medical technicians, and other health care workers, who are assigned within the combat theater, Dr. Kolkow and her colleagues provided a voluntary, anonymous, Internet-based questionnaire to the medical staff of a major U.S. military hospital that has deployed a high number of personnel to support U. …