Open Access Research article

Trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder and the effect of explanatory variables in paramedic trainees

Celine B Fjeldheim1, Jani Nöthling1, Karin Pretorius12, Marina Basson1, Keith Ganasen1, Robin Heneke3, Karen J Cloete1 and Soraya Seedat1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, South Africa

2 The Medical Research Council, University of South Africa Safety and Peace Promotion Research Unit, Parow, South Africa

3 Department of Emergency Medical Sciences, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Emergency Medicine 2014, 14:11  doi:10.1186/1471-227X-14-11

Published: 23 April 2014



Emergency healthcare workers, including trainees and individuals in related occupations are at heightened risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression owing to work-related stressors.

We aimed to investigate the type, frequency, and severity of direct trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress symptoms and other psychopathology amongst paramedic trainees. In order to create a risk profile for individuals who are at higher occupational risk of developing PTSD, we examined risk and resilience factors that possibly contributed to the presence and severity of posttraumatic symptomatology.


Paramedic trainees (n = 131) were recruited from a local university. A logistic regression analysis was conducted using the explanatory variables age, gender, population group, trauma exposure, depression, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, resilience and social support.


94% of paramedic trainees had directly experienced trauma, with 16% meeting PTSD criteria. A high rate of depression (28%), alcohol abuse (23%) and chronic perceived stress (7%) and low levels of social support was found. The number of previous trauma exposures, depression, resilience and social support significantly predicted PTSD status and depression had a mediating effect.


There is a need for efficient, ongoing screening of depressive and PTSD symptomatology in trauma exposed high risk groups so that early psychological supportive interventions can be offered.

Trauma; Posttraumatic stress disorder; Paramedic trainees; Emergency medical workers