Advocacy Amid Anguish for the Frontline Workforce

The Surgeon General’s advisory is landmark action whose priority is only emphasized by the latest horrific mass shootings, now at 213 and counting. We are way beyond burnout with advocacy amid the anguish mandated, and through an interprofessional effort.

My initial intent was to dedicate this week’s blog post to the Surgeon General’s Advisory. The document highlights the industry mandate for stakeholders to be accountable for action that mitigates workforce burnout: 

  • healthcare organizations 
  • insurers 
  • health technology companies 
  • policymakers
  • academic institutions 
  • researchers
  • communities

However, we are way beyond burnout! The battle cry by industry advocates is fierce. Workforce retention, turnover, and patient quality are beyond their tipping points; “more must be done or there will be nobody left to render care”. The Surgeon General’s advisory is landmark action whose priority is only emphasized by the latest horrific mass shootings, now at 213 and counting for 2022 alone.

Intensifying Collective Occupational Trauma

Society witnessed the worst of humanity: the death of 19 innocent children and two teachers in Uvalde, TX, followed so closely to the intentional murder of 13 persons in Buffalo, NY. Both events serve as added evidence of the severe collective occupational trauma inflicted on every practitioner and provider of care. My colleagues and I face these issues as human beings, as well as professionals, which is a felt in the most intimate and unique ways. 

Front-line practitioners and first-responders face unparalleled pressures in caring for victims or being forced to announce their deaths. Conveying that intimate information to loved ones carries an overbearing responsibility. Underneath a provider’s, often stoic, presentation lives interminable grief, pain, and loss, as they struggle to accept their inability to save the victim. The honor of caring for these fatalities bring an intense level of responsibility. Behavioral health professionals face a similar burden in rendering emergency and continuing mental health intervention to providers, witnesses, family, and community members. Recurrent workforce retruamatization has an especially fierce impact. The anguish contributes to rapidly escalating incidence of PTSD, suicidal ideation, and action across the workforce. Rates were high enough pre-pandemic, and continue to rise. The fusion of mental and physical health engulfs the body yielding escalation and exacerbation of chronic illness, auto-immune disorders, and other ailments; the workforce is being decimated.

Debriefing and Activating Advocacy

I’ve spent the better part of these past few weeks debriefing with past and present students, clinical social workers whom I supervise and mentor, experienced colleagues. Everyone is hurting in a unique way. Some need solace, while others require cues to stop doomscrolling. All demand action; workforce resource support and gun safety reform legislation are at the top of the list. 

Our emotions empower advocacy to heed the ethical tenets of autonomy, beneficence, fidelity, justice, and nonmalfeasance. Prioritizing these tenets ensures quality intervention for every patient and population, but also all health and behavioral health professions. Activating these principles looks different for each discipline. Yet, while each one shares distinct priorities, there is shared recognition of how interprofessional collaboration and advocacy will yield change including:

The industry must do better; our entire interprofessional workforce deserves far more. We must advocate amid the anguish, yet be ensured appropriate mental health support. How will you advocate for change? Feel free to add your comments about this blog post below, as well as other valuable resources. 

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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