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EMS: Teaching Trauma-Informed Care

First responders encounter traumatic scenes every day, whether they are arriving to the scene of a car accident, responding to a domestic or sexual violence situation, or serving a community in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In cases like these, it is crucial that emergency personnel respond to the victims, survivors, and family members with trauma-informed care.

What is trauma-informed care?

Clinical Services of Rhode Island describes trauma-informed care as, “a specified approach to treating victims of trauma that directly addresses the consequences of that trauma for the purposes of facilitating recovery and healing.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) outlines six guiding principles of trauma-informed care, including:

  • Fostering an atmosphere of safety for both the staff and the people they are treating.
  • Building trustworthiness among those who have experienced trauma.
  • Empowering both staff and patients to understand that they have choice, and that they can participate in self-care to help them deal with the stress of traumatic events.

In all cases, EMS professionals should avoid “retraumatizing” victims and survivors. A 2017 survey of pre-hospital providers that focused on their experience with injured children and their families found that 89.7 percent of respondents “wanted to gain more knowledge and skills regarding psychosocial care for injured children.” The study concluded there is a need and opportunity for educational initiatives regarding addressing traumatic stress in the pre-hospital setting.

Improvements in the classroom can lead to changes in the workplace – standards and policies can be updated to reflect a retraumatization-resistant attitude in all responders.

Methods for teaching trauma-informed care

Role Playing: Consider using standardized patients (SPs) to help students practice dealing with physical aspects of trauma while simultaneously encountering the emotional and post-traumatic responses from the actors. Use moulage to simulate different injuries and wounds.

Provide Resources: Familiarize students with trauma-informed care principles from SAMHSA and the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC).

Teach Self-Care: Not only should students understand how to facilitate self-care in those they treat, they should understand how to take part in self-care for their own well-being.

Prepare Students for Vicarious Trauma

Lastly, students must understand that when they encounter traumatic events and scenes, they will often experience physical, mental, and emotional impact of their own. The Office of Justice offers a Vicarious Trauma Toolkit that helps EMS, fire services, and law enforcement deal with this occupational reality.

Nicki Murff is Marketing Coordinator I. She is on Twitter, @NursePocket, and posts to LinkedIn and Facebook for Pocket Nurse.


Clinical Services of Rhode Island


National Center for BioTechnology Information (Survey)

EMS World

Office of Justice Programs - Office for Victims of Crime

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