Trauma Screening: Creating a Norm in Healthcare

By: Kristine Alarcon

Edited By: Sharon E. Chin


Traumatic experiences, whether it is domestic violence or childhood abuse, have a serious effect on the mental and physical health of a person. A research team at UCSF is pushing towards making it a norm in primary care to screen for these issues.

It is important that health care providers understand patients’ traumas and its effects, as well as find ways to make them comfortable and safe. This can make the patients more comfortable about asking for help and speaking about their experiences. If patients continue to keep traumatic experiences to themselves, there may be consequences both physically and mentally. A patient may develop substance abuse and mental health problems as a way to cope with their pain if it is not released. The stress that is involved with those activities and from the traumatic experiences can lead to even more unhealthy activities and biological problems as well.

The best way to screen for traumatic experiences is by creating a welcoming and safe environment. It would not only include the doctors, but also other medical staff such as physician assistants, nurses, and receptionists.

Receptionists are the first to welcome a patient as they walk into an office, so it is important that they are friendly and respectful.

During check-ups, physicians should not only be asking about physical activities such as exercise, drinking, and smoking, but also about any indicators of trauma that is ongoing or has occurred in the past. They should not lecture them on their lack of control when quitting smoking or weight gain, but explain how they develop these harmful habits and ask if there are traumatic occurrences in their lives. Additionally, they should not press on the issue if the patient does not choose to disclose that information. The same goes for other medical staff members.

Then, if the patient decides to share information about their past and current lives, next steps would include a referral for the patient to therapy or other resources available.

Kristine Alarcon is a senior at the University of San Francisco working towards a Bachelors of Science in Biology. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.


Allday, Erin. “UCSF team: trauma screening should be standard in health care” SF Gate. Retrieved on May 9, 2015.

Photo Credit:

(Hafalia, Liz) The Chronicle


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