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Which events are experienced as traumatic by obstetricians and gynaecologists, and why? A qualitative analysis from a cross-sectional survey and in-depth interviews

Sheen, Kayleigh; Goodfellow, Laura; Balling, Katie; Rymer, Janice; Weeks, Andrew; Spiby, Helen; Slade, Pauline


Kayleigh Sheen

Laura Goodfellow

Katie Balling

Janice Rymer

Andrew Weeks

Pauline Slade


Objectives: To explore the events perceived as traumatic by obstetricians and gynaecologists (O&G), and to examine factors contributing to the perception of trauma.
Design: Mixed methods: cross-sectional survey and in-depth interviews.
Sample and setting: Fellows, members and trainees of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
Methods: An online survey was distributed to 6300 fellows (May–June 2017), members and trainees of RCOG; 1095 (17%) completed surveys were returned. Of these, 728 (66%) reported work-related trauma experience, with 525 providing a brief description of an event. Forty-three participants with trauma experience were purposively sampled and completed an in-depth interview (October 2017–March 2018), which were analysed using Template Analysis. Information regarding the scale and impact of trauma experience is presented elsewhere. The present analysis provides new information describing the events and perceptions of why events were traumatic.
Primary outcome measures: The nature of traumatic events in this clinical setting, taken from survey descriptions of perceived traumatic events and information from the in-depth interviews.
Results: Events perceived as traumatic by O&G were similar between consultants, trainees and other RCOG members no longer working in O&G. Maternal or neonatal death/stillbirth, haemorrhage and events involving a difficult delivery were most frequently reported. Sudden and unpredictable events, perceived preventability, acute sensory experiences and high emotionality contributed to trauma perception. Respondents’ trauma was compounded by an absence of support, involvement in investigation procedures and pre-existing relationships with a recipient of care.
Conclusions: Identification of events most likely to be perceived as traumatic, and wider circumstances contributing to the perception of trauma, provide a basis on which to focus preventative and supportive strategies for O&G. Training on the nature of traumatic events, self-help for early stress responses, processing support and rapid access to trauma-focused psychological input (where required) are needed.


Sheen, K., Goodfellow, L., Balling, K., Rymer, J., Weeks, A., Spiby, H., & Slade, P. (2022). Which events are experienced as traumatic by obstetricians and gynaecologists, and why? A qualitative analysis from a cross-sectional survey and in-depth interviews. BMJ Open, 12(11), Article e061505.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 9, 2022
Online Publication Date Nov 21, 2022
Publication Date 2022-11
Deposit Date Oct 10, 2022
Publicly Available Date Dec 1, 2022
Journal BMJ Open
Electronic ISSN 2044-6055
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 12
Issue 11
Article Number e061505
Keywords Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Qualitative research
Public URL
Publisher URL