Workforce Trauma, Shortages, and Retention are Interprofessional Challenges: Resolution Tactics

Disregard for the health, mental health, and well-being of all members of the workforce is a grave concern. What tactics can be implemented?

The full scope of professionals must be recognized for their sacrifices and dedication to patient wellness; anything less is unacceptable.

 One year ago, I wrote how the pandemic, and other societal narratives prompted a new dimension of collective occupational trauma; an already worn workforce was forced to wrestle with constant and intense levels of suffering. As we enter 2022, and year 3 of COVID’s wrath, this trauma remains unrelenting. Pervasive burnout, retention issues, and staff shortages are ravaging disciplines and settings, cumulative costs into the billions. These realities put quality patient care at severe risk.

     Global data emphasizes the impact of chronic and recurrent COVID-waves for front-line physicians and nurses; no doubt these disciplines have endured, and continue to take a powerful hit; >80% ready to leave the industry. The ‘Great Resignation’ is decimating healthcare, the sector experiencing the largest job transition rates and among the highest number of job openings. Concern exists whether there will be enough practitioners to render care. However, what of other disciplines? Disregard for the health, mental health, and well-being of all members of the workforce is a grave concern.

The Entire Workforce Mandates Attention

     The health and behavioral health workforce is vast and comprises many professional disciplines: behavioral health professionals (behavioral analysts, counselors, social workers, psychologists), case managers, community health workers, medical assistants, nutritionists, pharmacists, phlebotomists, psychiatrists, public health workers, rehabilitation professionals, and respiratory therapists, etc. Valued personnel are also employed by other sectors (e.g., schools, businesses, prisons), such as teachers, occupational health, and school nurses, to name a few. Each of these groups have suffered more than their share of deaths, illness, and long-haul syndrome disability; the mental and emotional toll of their work yielding intense emotional trauma across:

Despite these graphic realities, too many personnel are excluded from industry/employer recognition for their contributions to the pandemic, whether awards or merit raises. Even media focus on these individuals is limited. A recent article discussing, hazard pay, focused on nurses and doctors alone; why are others not deserving?

     A vicious cycle unfolds where stressed, underappreciated team members experience a higher incidence of negative mood, emotional exhaustion, and thus, increased medical errors. More than 250,000 medical errors and 100,000 deaths annually were attributed to workforce frustration pre-pandemic; poor team member communication and fragmented care ensued with a ripple effect of order entry mistakes, medication, and treatment missteps, among other occurrences. Considering all the disciplines to interact with patients, at what point does the risk to patient care become too great?

Professional Advocacy is a Mandate

     There must be greater advocacy and action to acknowledge the vital interprofessional contributions rendered by entire workforce. Professional associations, their leadership, and those in positions to do so, must assert influence to promote the value of their requisite members. Language promoting self-care and professional advocacy has started to appear in standards of practice and ethical codes. However, these efforts must continue to amplify. Many colleagues actively use their social media presence to write articles, blogs, and other messaging to lead this charge; more must join the discussion and advocate for action through employers, and the industry overall. Media attention to this cause must be swift, fierce, and consistent.

There must be collective accountability across the professional landscape to acknowledge, and reconcile this issue, spanning academia, credentialing and regulatory entities, professional associations, and of course, employers. Workforce sustainability directly impacts quality health and behavioral healthcare, ultimately saving lives and dollars. Reaching this goal takes the expertise and contribution of each interprofessional team member.

How this goal is accomplished varies across each setting and far from a cookie-cutter approach, spanning:

  • tangible acknowledgements and recognition (e.g., free staff meals, merit raises or other benefit enhancements, staff appreciation awards, weekly formal and informal “shout-outs” of workforce contributions)
  • investment in staff professional development, as in payment for professional association dues, credentialing, continuing education
  • implementation of on-site mental health programming
  • scheduling teamwork celebrations
  • flexible scheduling as possible
  • plan departmental/organizational townhall meetings with actionable items and follow-up on deliverables
  • ensure staff mentoring and support programs
  • have informal staff-check ins
  • effective communication by leadership with staff (include the why of each action)
  • provide a culture where all persons, and their input are valued and respected
  • deliver and demonstrate consistent verbal appreciation
  • ensure professional regulations, credentialing entities, and associations highlight professional self-care and advocacy in all standards, and hold requisite workforce members and employers accountable to uphold the language
  • set a tone of mutual respect in academia and education programs through collaborative programs, events, and classroom activities (e.g., co-teaching across disciplines and programs) that empower interprofessional learning
  • implementation of Trauma-informed Leadership models and strategies (PS: my last blog post will jump-start this action)
  • Have other ideas? Add them below in the comments section

The full scope of professionals must be recognized for their sacrifices and dedication to patient wellness; anything less is unacceptable.

This blog post originally appeared on PACEsConnection

Bio: Ellen Fink-Samnick is an award-winning industry subject matter expert on interprofessional ethics, wholistic health equity, trauma-informed leadership, and supervision. She is an esteemed professional speaker, author, and knowledge developer with academic appointments at George Mason University and the University of Buffalo. Ellen is a clinical supervision trainer for NASW of Virginia, and serves in national leadership and consultant roles. She is also a Doctoral in Behavioral Health Candidate at Cummings Graduate Institute of Behavioral Health Studies. Further information is available on her LinkedIn Bio and website

Author: Ellen's Interprofessional Insights

Bio: Ellen Fink-Samnick is an award-winning industry subject matter expert on interprofessional ethics, wholistic health equity, trauma-informed leadership, and supervision. She is an esteemed professional speaker, author, and knowledge developer with academic appointments at George Mason University and the University of Buffalo. Ellen is a clinical supervision trainer for NASW of Virginia, and serves in national leadership and consultant roles. She is also a Doctoral in Behavioral Health Candidate at Cummings Graduate Institute of Behavioral Health Studies. Further information is available on her LinkedIn Bio and website

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