Background: Health care workers face occupational stressors that may lead to burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Strategies to mitigate the negative psychological impact on frontline workers are urgently needed.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of auricular acupuncture or acupressure, as compared with ear massage, on anxiety, burnout, and caring capacity in health care workers. Results were stratified on the basis of subject’s level of belief in traditional Chinese medicine.
Methods: This prospective randomized trial with an open, parallel-group design was conducted at a 334-bed Level II pediatric trauma center. Participants were randomized to one of three groups: (1) auricular acupuncture, (2) auricular seed acupressure, or (3) auricular massage. Interventions were delivered over 3 weeks. Self-reported State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL), and Caring Ability Inventory (CAI) scores were analyzed using a pre-/posttest design. Univariate analysis, Fisher’s exact test, and analysis of variance (ANOVA) were performed to assess group differences.
Results: A total of 117 (36%) of 325 eligible participants consented to participate in the study. Seed acupressure treatment (n = 14, 35.9%, one male, 13 females) was associated with a reduction in burnout (ANOVA, p = .04) and secondary traumatic stress (p = .03). This effect remained significant after adjusting for individual pretest scores (ANOVA, p = .05). The studied interventions did not have a significant effect on STAI, ProQOL, or CAI scores.
Conclusions: Auricular acupressure is a safe, effective, and practical strategy to reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress and may support health care workers’ ability to develop caring relationships with patients and families.