Date of Paper/Work


Type of Paper/Work

Research Project

Degree Name

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)


Physical Therapy

First Advisor

Susan Klappa


Background and Purpose: Physical therapists and other health care workers are now playing a greater role in disaster relief work after the 2010 earthquake of Haiti. Many of the volunteers were prepared for the work they did while abroad. What they failed to prepare themselves for was re-entry upon their return home. Little information is available on the challenges of returning home after the intense experience of volunteering in Haiti. The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate the re-entry process of health care providers, including physical therapists, who participated in relief work in Haiti.

Methods: A total of 90 participants completed the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) survey and 15 participants chose to participate in a phenomenological interview. The ProQOL was used to assess the level of compassion satisfaction, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress, experienced by participants upon their return home. The ProQOL provided a general sense of the challenges of re-entry while the interviews provided a deep description of the experience. The interview transcripts were analyzed using the descriptive approach described by Giorgi (1975, 1997) and Dahlberg, Drew, and Nyström (2002). This process involved a whole-parts-whole type of holistic examination of the interview texts until the constituents of the experience were revealed.

Results: Descriptive statistics revealed our study population had low levels of secondary traumatic stress and burnout, and high levels of compassion satisfaction compared to the normal range. Chronbach’s alpha was statistically significant (p<.001) for each of these three variables, indicating that the ProQOL tool had high internal consistency. The essence of re-entry home was signified by constituents including (a) personal challenges, (b) family challenges, (c) professional challenges, and (d) creative coping strategies, to deal with the challenges of re-entry.

Conclusion(s): Several common themes emerged amongst participants in regard to their return home experiences. By understanding the experience of re-entry after serving in disaster relief work, we can better anticipate the support needed for those who engage in this work.