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Deployed military medical personnel: Impact of combat and healthcare trauma exposure.

Authors: Peterson, A. L., Baker, M. T., Moore, B. A., Hale, W. J., Joseph, J. S., Straud, C. L., Lancaster, C. L., McNally, R. J., Isler, W. C., Litz, B. T., Mintz, J.

Publication: Military Medicine, 184(1-2), e133-e142. https://doi.org/10.1093/milmed/usy147



Limited research has been conducted on the impact of deployment-related trauma exposure on post-traumatic stress symptoms in military medical personnel. This study evaluated the association between exposure to both combat experiences and medical duty stressors and post-traumatic stress symptoms in deployed military medical personnel.

Materials and Methods:

U.S. military medical personnel (N = 1,138; 51% male) deployed to Iraq between 2004 and 2011 were surveyed about their exposure to combat stressors, healthcare stressors, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). All participants were volunteers, and the surveys were completed anonymously approximately halfway into their deployment. The Combat Experiences Scale was used as a measure of exposure to and impact of various combat-related stressors such as being attacked or ambushed, being shot at, and knowing someone seriously injured or killed. The Military Healthcare Stressor Scale (MHSS) was modeled after the Combat Experiences Scale and developed for this study to assess the impact of combat-related healthcare stressors such as exposure to patients with traumatic amputations, gaping wounds, and severe burns. The Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist-Military Version (PCL-M) was used to measure the symptoms of PTSD.


Eighteen percent of the military medical personnel reported exposure to combat experiences that had a significant impact on them. In contrast, more than three times as many medical personnel (67%) reported exposure to medical-specific stressors that had a significant impact on them. Statistically significant differences were found in self-reported exposure to healthcare stressors based on military grade, education level, and gender. Approximately 10% of the deployed medical personnel screened positive for PTSD. Approximately 5% of the sample were positive for PTSD according to a stringent definition of caseness (at least moderate scores on requisite Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders criteria and a total PCL-M score = 50). Both the MHSS scores (r(1,127) = 0.49, p < 0.0001) and the Combat Experiences Scale scores (r(1,127) = 0.34, p < 0.0001) were significantly associated with PCL-M scores. However, the MHSS scores had statistically larger associations with PCL-M scores than the Combat Experiences Scale scores (z = 5.57, p < 0.0001). The same was true for both the minimum criteria for scoring positive for PTSD (z = 3.83, p < 0.0001) and the strict criteria PTSD (z = 1.95, p = 0.05).


The U.S. military has provided significant investments for the funding of research on the prevention and treatment of combat-related PTSD, and military medical personnel may benefit from many of these treatment programs. Although exposure to combat stressors places all service members at risk of developing PTSD, military medical personnel are also exposed to many significant, high-magnitude medical stressors. The present study shows that medical stressors appear to be more impactful on military medical personnel than combat stressors, with approximately 5–10% of deployed medical personnel appearing to be at risk for clinically significant levels of PTSD.

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