Does vicarious traumatisation affect oncology nurses? A literature review

Helen A H Sinclair, Conal Hamill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


It is widely documented that nurses experience work-related stress [Quine, L., 1998. Effects of stress in an NHS trust: a study. Nursing Standard 13 (3), 36-41; Charnley, E., 1999. Occupational stress in the newly qualified staff nurse. Nursing Standard 13 (29), 32-37; McGrath, A., Reid, N., Boore, J., 2003. Occupational stress in nursing. International Journal of Nursing Studies 40, 555-565; McVicar, A., 2003. Workplace stress in nursing: a literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing 44 (6), 633-642; Bruneau, B., Ellison, G., 2004. Palliative care stress in a UK community hospital: evaluation of a stress-reduction programme. International Journal of Palliative Nursing 10 (6), 296-304; Jenkins, R., Elliott, P., 2004. Stressors, burnout and social support: nurses in acute mental health settings. Journal of Advanced Nursing 48 (6), 622-631], with cancer nursing being identified as a particularly stressful occupation [Hinds, P.S., Sanders, C.B., Srivastava, D.K., Hickey, S., Jayawardene, D., Milligan, M., Olsen, M.S., Puckett, P., Quargnenti, A., Randall, E.A., Tyc, V., 1998. Testing the stress-response sequence model in paediatric oncology nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing 28 (5), 1146-1157; Barnard, D., Street, A., Love, A.W., 2006. Relationships between stressors, work supports and burnout among cancer nurses. Cancer Nursing 29 (4), 338-345]. Terminologies used to capture this stress are burnout [Pines, A.M., and Aronson, E., 1988. Career Burnout: Causes and Cures. Free Press, New York], compassion stress [Figley, C.R., 1995. Compassion Fatigue. Brunner/Mazel, New York], emotional contagion [Miller, K.I., Stiff, J.B., Ellis, B.H., 1988. Communication and empathy as precursors to burnout among human service workers. Communication Monographs 55 (9), 336-341] or simply the cost of caring (Figley, 1995). However, in the mental health field such as psychology and counselling, there is terminology used to captivate this impact, vicarious traumatisation. Vicarious traumatisation is a process through which the therapist's inner experience is negatively transformed through empathic engagement with client's traumatic material [Pearlman, L.A., Saakvitne, K.W., 1995a. Treating therapists with vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress disorders. In: Figley, C.R. (Ed.), Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized. Brunner/Mazel, New York, pp. 150-177]. Trauma not only affects individuals who are primarily present, but also those with whom they discuss their experience. If an individual has been traumatised as a result of a cancer diagnosis and shares this impact with oncology nurses, there could be a risk of vicarious traumatisation in this population. However, although Thompson [2003. Vicarious traumatisation: do we adequately support traumatised staff? The Journal of Cognitive Rehabilitation 24-25] suggests that vicarious traumatisation is a broad term used for workers from any profession, it has not yet been empirically determined if oncology nurses experience vicarious traumatisation. This purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of vicarious traumatisation and argue that it should be explored in oncology nursing. The review will highlight that empirical research in vicarious traumatisation is largely limited to the mental health professions, with a strong recommendation for the need to empirically determine whether this concept exists in oncology nursing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-56
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean journal of oncology nursing : the official journal of European Oncology Nursing Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2007


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Burnout, Professional
  • Communication
  • Cost of Illness
  • Countertransference (Psychology)
  • Empathy
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Mental Health
  • Models, Psychological
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital
  • Occupational Health
  • Oncology Nursing
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Efficacy
  • Social Support
  • Workplace


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