Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Exercise and Health Sciences


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Supervisor

Dr Sonya Girdler

Second Supervisor

Associate Professor Catherine Elliot


Burns are one of the most painful and traumatising injuries an individual can sustain and constitute a serious global health threat to children. Despite the magnitude of this public health problem, little research has examined the psychological burden of these injuries. This study used a mixed-methods approach to investigate the effect of paediatric medical trauma on children who have sustained a burn, their parents and the healthcare professionals caring for these patients. The paediatric medical traumatic stress model provided a theoretical framework for this study.

Firstly, this study aimed to gain an understanding of the lived experience of children who sustain a burn. Using phenomenology as a methodology, the first paper in this thesis provided an in-depth understanding of children’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings about the lived experience of sustaining a burn. The findings identified two phases of trauma that are central to the burn experience. The paper found that children experience ongoing trauma in addition to the initial trauma of sustaining the burn, resulting in a cumulative trauma experience. Six themes were identified in the data describing the child’s experience: ongoing recurrent trauma; return to normal activities; behavioural changes; scarring-the permanent reminder; family functioning and adaptation. The methodology of this research provided a voice for the child’s perspective of the burn experience and the findings can be used to inform clinical care at all stages of the burn journey.

The second paper, a cross-sectional study, aimed to investigate the impact of exposure to paediatric trauma on parents of children with a burn and to identify risk factors and relationships between psychological distress and resilience. The results indicated that parents experienced significantly more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than a comparative population. Factors including having a daughter, witnessing the event, feeling helpless or having past traumatic experiences significantly influenced symptoms of psychological distress and resilience. Findings from this study highlight that health professionals should screen parents to identify those at greatest risk and provide effective evidence-based interventions aimed at improving resilience and reducing stress, as part of standard, routine care.

The aim of the third paper was to gain an understanding of the lived experience of parents of a child with a burn injury. Using a phenomenological, qualitative methodology allowed aspects of the parents’ experience not collected in standardised outcome measures to be identified, enabling triangulation with the quantitative results found in the second study. The findings demonstrated that the experience of parents reflected a journey that was represented by three phases: the event, the inpatient phase and the return to the community. Within the three phases, themes of external stressors, emotional and behavioural responses and coping strategies were identified. These findings can be used for the development of protocols to underpin a comprehensive information and social support management plan for families. This would complement the surgical and medical treatment plan, providing direction for comprehensive service delivery.

Children, parents and health professionals are interconnected in a professional relationship. The aim of the fourth paper was to investigate the effect of exposure to paediatric medical trauma on multidisciplinary teams and the relationships between psychological distress, resilience and coping skills. Health professionals experienced significantly more symptoms of psychological distress and less resilience than comparative groups. Non-productive coping was associated with adverse psychological outcomes and younger health professionals were more vulnerable to psychological distress than those aged 25 years and above. Findings from this study may assist in developing organisational systems to facilitate optimal mental health and coping strategies in health professionals, with the aim of the maintenance of a healthy workforce.

Overall findings from this research provide evidence for health professionals to optimise a holistic clinical service at all stages of the burn journey. These findings provide previously unknown knowledge about the impact of paediatric medical trauma on children, parents and health professionals within a paediatric hospital.

Access Note

Access to Appendix A of this thesis is not available.


Paper Location