Healthcare providers working in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are considered at high risk for psychological work-related stress.
To evaluate both perceived and biological measures of work-related stress in neonatal healthcare professionals and to compare professionals working in the NICU with their colleagues working in less critical environments (ie, neonatal wards [NWs]).
The salivary cortisol level at the beginning (CORT-B) and at the end (CORT-E) of a daily work shift was collected once a week for 6 weeks and a psychological questionnaire was submitted to NW and NICU workers of a tertiary university center.
No differences emerged in the overall cortisol secretion between professionals (NW 45 vs NICU 28), but the decrease in the mean cortisol values between CORT-B and CORT-E was less pronounced in NICU professionals (P < .001) who had greater psychological stress (P < .001). Lack of correlation between perceived and biological indexes was observed.
Implications for Practice:
NICU professionals reported greater levels of self-perceived psychological stress, especially in terms of professional self-doubt and the complexity of interactions with infants and their parents.
The disconnection between psychological and biological indexes raises the issue that work-related stress might be covert to the professionals themselves. Dedicated resources should be developed to address quality of life and the work environment of NICU professionals.
Implications for Research:
The absence of a correlation between perceived and biological indexes highlights the need to incorporate multidimensional physiological and biological measurements in evaluating burnout levels in neonatal healthcare providers.