This study examined the nature, concomitants, and consequences of stress-related biological reactivity and regulation among Army nurses. Saliva was collected, heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) recorded from 38 Army nurses (74% female; mean age 28.5 years [SD = 6.5]) before, during, and after participation in the Combat Casualty Stress Scenario (CCSS). Saliva was assayed for cortisol and alpha-amylase (sAA). The CCSS simulates emergency combat rescue, employing two simulated combat casualties, aversive body odors, recorded battlefield sounds, and smoke in a low light environment. Participants locate and conduct preliminary assessments of the simulated patients, triage based on injury severity, initiate treatment, and coordinate medical evacuation by radio. Results revealed large magnitude increases in cortisol, sAA, HR, systolic BP and diastolic BP in response to the CCSS, followed by recovery to baseline levels 30. min after the task for all physiological parameters except cortisol. Age, gender, perceived difficulty of the CCSS, and previous nursing experience were associated with individual differences in the magnitude of the physiological responses. Lower levels of performance related to triage and treatment were associated with higher levels of reactivity and slower recovery for some of the physiological measures. The findings raise important questions regarding the utility of integrating measures of the psychobiology of the stress response into training programs designed to prepare first responders to handle highly complex and chaotic rescue situations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry