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31st January 2023

Australian-first female first responder research

pg 4 5 Helen Frazer

Female first responders are more likely to experience burnout, psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorder according to an Australian-first study by MESHA’s team of researchers. 

The study also found exposure to teasing contributed to higher PTSD scores. 

Led by Helen Frazer from the University of Adelaide, the team surveyed 422 female first responders for the study: Exploration of potential indicators of burnout, psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorder, among Australian female first responders.  

Previous studies have found that female first responders have higher levels of compassion, fatigue and burnout compared to males, and could be related to increased higher emotional involvement among females. 

The research key findings included: 

  • People who were dissatisfied with work/life balance were almost five-times more likely to experience moderate burnout 
  • Those who often returned to work with less than a 12-hour break were three-times more likely to experience moderate burnout 
  • Compared to volunteers, paid workers were two-times more likely to experience moderate burnout 
  • There was a lack of workplace trust/respect from participants 
  • Exposure to workplace gossip and slander was associated with increased burnout. 

 

It also found exposure to unpleasant teasing in the workplace was associated with a three-fold increase in higher scores for PTSD/psychological distress.   

Other factors associated with PTSD/psychological distress included pressure at work and home, having experienced physical violence (in their lifetime), and having someone close die unexpectedly. 

There are an estimated 335,000 first responders in Australia, in both full-time and part-time roles. Although numbers are hard to obtain, it is thought that female first responders make up approximately 5-10% of this workforce. 

“Female first responder studies have reported the difficulties this cohort experience in male-dominated workforces, often resulting in burnout,” lead author Helen Frazer said.  “This research will contribute to the evolving research for female first responders.”  

 The survey was conducted between July 2020 and January 2021 with female first responders in roles such as police officers, paramedics, aeromedical and SES, from both metropolitan and remote areas.  

The team of researchers also included: Craig Hansen, Amelia Searle, Ellie Lawrence-Wood, Miranda Van Hooff.
 

This research was made possible through the Phoebe Chapple Memorial PhD Scholarship, funded by the Australian Medical Women’s Research Fund (AMWRF), Snowdrops Hope for Post-Traumatic Stress Committee, an affiliate of MESHA and The Hospital Research Foundation and the South Australian Government. We wish to remember and honour the legacy and passion for this project from the late founder Petula Columbus, who sadly passed this year. 

 

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