Practice research – the good, the bad and the glorious. What we learnt from our Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue Research Initiative (ViCTARI)

Ms Jenni Graves1, Scott Crehan2

1South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, Sydney, Australia, 2South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, Sydney, Australia

Hospital settings can be both incredible and challenging contexts to undertake practice research. Increasingly allied health staff are being required to engage in research activity, with research being including in the strategic business plans for all allied health disciplines in Local Health Districts across NSW. However lack of skills, time and confidence can pose barriers for allied health staff to engage in a research process.

Social workers in South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) collaborated with the University of Wollongong to research the experience and potential impact of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma in hospital social workers and build social work research capacity in the process.

Qualitative methodology was used, coming from a participatory action research framework. An online survey was sent to social workers at four SESLHD hospitals and in-depth interviews explored experiences further. The research team undertook co-analysis, providing another layer of context and understanding, and reflected on the impact of this project on their research capacity.

Results include a committed district-wide research team, a SESLHD honorary research associate, grant success, which enabled employment of a research assistant, and working parties following through with actions informed by research results.

This presentation will outline the process we used to improve social work research capacity through this project. The strengths of partnering with an academic, having a mix of clinicians, managers and educators on the research team and a research methodology resonating with social work values and ethics will be highlighted.


Jenni Graves is the Social Work Educator for Prince of Wales Hospital and Sydney/ Sydney Eye Hospitals. She has Masters of Social Work and Public Health. Her work experience spans clinical social work in Australia to working on health programs in the Asia-Pacific. A current passion is working with social workers engaged in and contributing to research.

Scott Crehan is the Head of Social Work at St George Hospital, and has a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master of Business Administration (Health Management). He has worked in various areas within the public hospital system with a particular interest in working with people experiencing trauma. Scott’s interests also include understanding the professional identity of social workers within public hospitals, and the challenge of measuring social complexity and the impact of social work intervention.

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