Work-related distress and coping experienced by emergency and health care personnel

  • Ruth Kirkpatrick

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Clinical Psychology


This thesis includes a systematic review and large-scale research project. The abstracts for each are detailed below:

Systematic Review: A Systematic Review of the Relationship between Burnout and Coping in Emergency Workers
Emergency workers regularly witness critical incidents and are at risk of experiencing psychological distress including burnout. However, it is interesting that not all “first responders” present with this difficulty, and it has been hypothesized that the occurrence of burnout may be influenced by coping style. Chronic burnout can have a detrimental impact at an individual and organisational level, and this systematic review investigated its relationship with coping. Given the heterogeneity associated with the eligible studies, a narrative synthesis was completed. Results reflected the substantial challenge in clarifying and understanding the potential association between burnout and coping, due to an array of conceptualisations and measurement tools. In response, implications and recommendations for future research are provided. Large Scale Research Project: Work-related Distress experienced by Healthcare Staff within a Regional Plastic Surgery Team:

A Multiple Method Study Objective: Despite exposure to a high level of patient trauma, limited research has investigated work-related distress (WRD) within medical plastic surgery (MPS) teams. This study aimed to broaden the knowledge base, with the objective of informing effective occupational support.
Methods and measures: All multi-disciplinary MPS employees on a single hospital site, were invited to complete a quantitative questionnaire. This included demographic questions and three pre-established measures (ProQOL, PCL-V, Brief COPE). Thirteen semi-structured interviews followed, with a sub-set of MPS employees specialising in treating hand injuries.
Results: Questionnaire findings suggested that on average, staff were functioning and coping well. Quantitative results provided context for in-depth qualitative interview analysis, which highlighted similarities and differences across surgical and non-surgical populations.Conclusion: This study offered initial insight into the WRD and coping mechanisms utilised by multi-disciplinary MPS staff. It is essential that the challenges and opportunities, and associated similarities and differences across specialities are considered, when tailoring workplace support. The importance of assisting staff in continuing to utilise peer communication is vital, with priority placed on extending this to strengthen cross-speciality relationships.
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMartin Dempster (Supervisor) & David Curran (Supervisor)


  • work related distress
  • coping
  • emergency workers
  • health care staff

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