How events in emergency medicine impact doctors’ psychological well-being

Laura Howard, Christopher Wibberley, Liz Crowe, Richard Body

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Emergency medicine is a high-pressured specialty with exposure to disturbing events and risk. We conducted a qualitative study to identify which clinical events resulted in emotional disruption and the impact of these events on the well-being of physicians working in an ED.

Methods We used the principles of naturalistic inquiry to conduct narrative interviews with physicians working in the ED at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, between September and October 2016. Participants were asked, ‘Could you tell me about a time when an event at work has continued to play on your mind after the shift in which it occurred was over?’ Data were analysed using framework analysis. The study had three a priori themes reported here. Other emergent themes were analysed separately.

Results We interviewed 17 participants. Within the first a priori theme (‘clinical events’) factors associated with emotional disruption included young or traumatic deaths, patients or situations that physicians could relate to, witnessing the impact of death on relatives, the burden of responsibility (including medical error) and conflict in the workplace. Under theme 2 (psychological and physical effects), participants reported substantial upset leading to substance misuse, sleep disruption and neglecting their own physical needs through preoccupation with caring. Within theme 3 (impact on relationships), many interviewees described becoming withdrawn from personal relationships following clinical events, while others described feeling isolated because friends and family were non-medical.

Conclusions Clinical events encountered in the ED can affect a physician’s psychological and physical well-being. For many participants these effects were negative and long lasting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-599
JournalEmergency Medicine Journal
Issue number10
Early online date21 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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