Psychiatric Quarterly

, Volume 87, Issue 2, pp 241–251 | Cite as

Post-traumatic Stress and Growth Among Medical Student Volunteers After the March 2011 Disaster in Fukushima, Japan: Implications for Student Involvement with Future Disasters

  • David Anderson
  • Phoebe Prioleau
  • Kanako Taku
  • Yu Naruse
  • Hideharu Sekine
  • Masaharu Maeda
  • Hirooki Yabe
  • Craig Katz
  • Robert Yanagisawa
Original Paper


The March 2011 “triple disaster” (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident) had a profound effect on northern Japan. Many medical students at Fukushima Medical University volunteered in the relief effort. We aimed to investigate the nature of students’ post-disaster involvement and examine the psychological impact of their experiences using a survey containing elements from the Davidson Trauma Scale and Posttraumatic Growth Inventory. We collected 494 surveys (70 % response rate), of which 132 students (26.7 %) had volunteered. Volunteers were more likely to be older, have witnessed the disaster in person, had their hometowns affected, and had a family member or close friend injured. In the month after 3/11, volunteers were more likely to want to help, feel capable of helping, and report an increased desire to become a physician. Both in the month after 3/11 and the most recent month before the survey, there were no significant differences in distressing symptoms, such as confusion, anger, or sadness, between volunteers and non-volunteers. Volunteers reported a significantly higher level of posttraumatic growth than non-volunteers. Participating in a greater variety of volunteer activities was associated with a higher level of posttraumatic growth, particularly in the Personal Strength domain. There may be self-selection in some criteria, since students who were likely to be resistant to confusion/anxiety/sadness may have felt more capable of helping and been predisposed to volunteer. However, participation in post-disaster relief efforts did not appear to have a harmful effect on medical students, an important consideration for mobilizing volunteers after future disasters.


Medical student volunteerism 3/11 Posttraumatic growth Posttraumatic stress response Disaster mental health Natural disasters 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Anderson
    • 1
  • Phoebe Prioleau
    • 1
  • Kanako Taku
    • 2
  • Yu Naruse
    • 3
  • Hideharu Sekine
    • 4
  • Masaharu Maeda
    • 5
  • Hirooki Yabe
    • 6
  • Craig Katz
    • 7
  • Robert Yanagisawa
    • 8
  1. 1.Icahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochesterUSA
  3. 3.Fukushima Medical UniversityFukushimaJapan
  4. 4.International Exchange AffairsFukushima Medical UniversityFukushimaJapan
  5. 5.Department of Disaster PsychiatryFukushima Medical UniversityFukushimaJapan
  6. 6.Department of NeuropsychiatryFukushima Medical UniversityFukushimaJapan
  7. 7.Departments of Psychiatry and Medical EducationIcahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA
  8. 8.Division of Endocrinology, Department of MedicineIcahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA

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