Health Care Professionals as Second Victims after Adverse Events: A Systematic Review

Deborah Seys, Albert W. Wu, Eva Van Gerven, Arthur Vleugels, Martin Euwema, Massimiliano Panella, Susan D. Scott, James Conway, Walter Sermeus, Kris Vanhaecht

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Adverse events within health care settings can lead to two victims. The first victim is the patient and family and the second victim is the involved health care professional. The latter is the focus of this review. The objectives are to determine definitions of this concept, research the prevalence and the impact of the adverse event on the second victim, and the used coping strategies. Therefore a literature research was performed by using a three-step search procedure. A total of 32 research articles and 9 nonresearch articles were identified. The second victim phenomenon was first described by Wu in 2000. In 2009, Scottet al.introduced a detailed definition of second victims. The prevalence of second victims after an adverse event varied from 10.4% up to 43.3%. Common reactions can be emotional, cognitive, and behavioral. The coping strategies used by second victims have an impact on their patients, colleagues, and themselves. After the adverse event, defensive as well as constructive changes have been reported in practice. The second victim phenomenon has a significant impact on clinicians, colleagues, and subsequent patients. Because of this broad impact it is important to offer support for second victims. When an adverse event occurs, it is critical that support networks are in place to protect both the patient and involved health care providers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-162
Number of pages28
JournalEvaluation and the Health Professions
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • adverse events
  • emotional distress
  • health care provider
  • patient safety
  • second victim

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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