W2W: Help Us Help Frontline Clinicians

by Migrant Clinicians Network
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W2W: Help Us Help Frontline Clinicians
W2W: Help Us Help Frontline Clinicians
W2W: Help Us Help Frontline Clinicians
W2W: Help Us Help Frontline Clinicians
W2W: Help Us Help Frontline Clinicians

Less than a month ago, Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN) captured a national spotlight after being announced as a recipient of a sizable donation from author and philanthropist, MacKenzie Scott. In response to the showing of generosity, MCN utilized a thank you borrowing language that has long defined their official stance of gratitude. In an email blast to constituents, Karen Mountain, MCN’s Chief Executive officer, explained that the gift “is an investment in creating a heritage of hope for the future—and not only for women but for an entire society free to invest in what is critical that ensures the world continues to nurture the dreamers who were born to care.”

The phrase “Born to Care” is a long-time legacy of the organization, which began to provide support services to frontline clinicians specializing in work with migrant and mobile populations. In recent years, frontline clinicians have encountered numerous structural barriers that have hampered their ability to address the needs of their clients. Such obstacles, including racism, funding deficits, bureaucracy, and inadequate systems of care, have created harm to the healers—and being “born to care” is not an inoculation against moral injury.

Beyond being founded by a group of people born to care, MCN remains staffed by people of similar persuasion. From administrative assistants to senior leaders, the overarching goal of creating health justice motivates us to address these barriers with on-the-ground programs to support the immigrant, migrant, and asylum-seeking populations directly. As always, the heart of the efforts concentrates on clinicians. In the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived globally, MCN has provided training to close to 4,000 individuals, including extensive education and technical assistance collaborations with nearly 700 organizations.

MCN’s Witness to Witness (W2W) program has been a large part of the effort to reach out to clinicians. Among its many perspectives, W2W does strive to disseminate information about moral injury. The failure to do what they know needs to be done creates moral injury in providers and becomes fertile ground for the national epidemic of provider burnout. In the last year, Dr. Kaethe Weingarten, the Founder and Director of W2W, has increased the resources available for those identified as being at risk of moral injury, including providing Zoom-hosted talks on self-care to more than 800 frontline clinicians, facilitating several new cycles of peer support groups and learning collaboratives with trained W2W volunteers, and creating informative handouts, such as January’s “Some Comforting Ideas,” which Dr. Weingarten developed when half of a webinar group of healthcare workers was unable to think of a single self-soothing option.

More than a quarter into 2022, it is clear that the work is far from over. Supporters can expect the blog to remain updated, the mailing list to stay engaged, and handouts to continue merging helpful tidbits of information with Dr. Weingarten’s razor-sharp observations developed over five decades of clinical experience. Ever mindful of the need to be nimble and responsive, W2W will be unveiling new resources shortly, including additional webinars, learning collaboratives, and perhaps most excitingly of all, a fresh new podcast to inform, entertain, and speak to others who were also born to care.

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As the world approaches the second year of the Coronavirus pandemic, Witness to Witness is as busy as ever in providing services to empower frontline clinicians in their work with migrant and mobile populations. The programmatic offerings have included peer support groups for clinicians, made available through the American Rescue Plan grant, including specialized learning collaboratives designed to be responsive for managers experiencing moral injury due to their work at the frontline. A sense of urgency has become visible in our recent efforts. Combined with the observable impacts of other taxing events—such as the intensifying political divide, the impact of climate change, and the turmoil at the border, to name just a few—the state of mental health and psychological wellbeing continues to decline.

In a recent email blast, Witness to Witness founder Dr. Kaethe Weingarten observed, “We are noticing how much more exhausted attendees are, even compared to last Spring.” Dr. Weingarten also commented that this strain on mental health systems is palpable; at least 204 countries have reported an uptick in both anxiety and depression as a direct result of the stress facing the global population. Accordingly, Witness to Witness has noted an increase among individuals seeking services, including among colleagues, peers, and staffers at Migrant Clinicians Network. In recognition of this shift, Witness to Witness has hosted a series of listening circles and support calls. The impact of Witness to Witness continues to rapidly expand in and out of public health spaces.

Additionally, Dr. Weingarten estimates that more than 1,000 individuals have been reached through recent efforts, including webinars. Witness to Witness has addressed a variety of topics, and the upcoming calendar will conclude the year with subjects such as developing self-compassion as part of a self-care regiment, and instruction for providers on how to cope with the pressure of being overexposed to trauma. These offerings are incredibly timely, as surging numbers of frontline clinicians are reporting that in contrast to being heralded as heroes during the beginning of the pandemic, they are facing escalating issues of hostility, anger, and contempt towards them and their profession. This combination of aggression and diminished support underscores the utter necessity of what Witness to Witness strives to deliver.

For the next quarter, the work of Witness to Witness will have Dr. Weingarten continuing her prolific writing across multiple channels, including circulating monthly email blasts to the official Witness to Witness mailing list, as well as writing entries for Migrant Clinicians Network’s blog, Clinician-to-Clinician: A Forum for Health Justice. Her educational efforts will also include authoring pieces for Streamline, MCN’s quarterly clinical publication that delivers critical information and resources to a constituency of more than 6,000 frontline clinicians.

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It has been a year and a half since the Witness to Witness Program pivoted to address the COVID-19 related needs of health care clinicians and managers; professionals providing services to the unsheltered and displacedand people assisting farmers, migrants, the recently detained and newly reunited.   The same underlying principle that has animated W2W from its inception in the summer of 2018 informed all that we have done, are doing and plan to do in the coming year: the helpers need help.  And, frankly, we have also learned that the corollary is true: helping the helpers helps us.  The volunteers, staff and donors who work with W2W know that what we do, what we offer, makes a difference to individuals, to their families and friends, to their workplaces and to their communities.  We hear that every day.   And that makes a difference to us. 

At W2W, it has been a year of hard work --often 60-hours of work weeks -- but the idea we present in our teaching, “compassion doesn’t fatigue; it’s what we cannot do, not what we can do, that exhausts us” holds true for us at W2W.   We have been able to do a lot and have helped others feel more effective ad confident in what they do, despite the unparalleled challenges that so many helpers have faced during the pandemic.   

Sara is a nurse manager who participated in one of the learning collaboratives we held this year for health care managers.  The mother of three school-aged children, all of whom were doing online schooling, she shared anecdotes that vividly illustrated what research has shown: even in families with a mom and a dad, the demands on mothers are higher than on fathers.  One study in six high-income countries including the US found that mothers of children ages 6-14 spent three-quarters of their work time simultaneously caring for their children, which was 30% more time than fathers spent.  Mothers were also interrupted by their children substantially more than fathers.1  That’s what Sara reported to us.  Her peers in the group jumped in with their stories, validating her, and then turning to the kind of sharing that helps: suggestions grounded in lived experience.  Sara, like others in the peer support and learning collaboratives we ran, ended up feeing less anxious and more effective both at home and at her job. 

W2W ran seven peer support groups in the last year.  Each group member participated in one of our 15 webinars that we presented this year to over 2000 people.  Six of our webinars are offered in Spanish as well as English.  One of our webinars on grief was received so gratefully that it spun off three more, responsive to the comments that we received.  The first spinoff was on “How to Support a Friend, Family Member or Colleague Who is Suffering in the Context of  
the Pandemic” and the second was “Helping Children During Times of Uncertainty.”   As Director of the Witness to Witness Program I have over 50 years of clinical, research and activism experience to draw on.  It was powerful when I was able to tell webinar participants who were uncertain what to tell children when a family member had died that in my years of clinical practice and living, I have never had a person say to me,  wish they hadn’t told me the truth about what happened to my loved one.”  The third spinoff webinar specifically addresses the needs of youth during the pandemic, the group that has had the highest rates of anxiety and depression. 

All of W2W’s work is driven by clinical excellence, informed by research and oriented to the social justice impact it can make.  In the coming year we will have more full-time staff and will be able to increase our programming and diversify our offerings.  Here is some of what is on our coming soon list: We will be offering more peer support groups, more learning collaboratives and more webinars.  In addition to the formats we currently use for our webinarswe will be offering shorter-form videos, often using animation to deliver a pithy message.  We will be offering short topical podcasts as well.  All of our content is geared towards helping people build internal and external resources so that they can transform feelings of ineffectiveness into effectiveness and demoralization into vitality.  We help people move from languishing to flourishing. 

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Organization Information

Migrant Clinicians Network

Location: Austin, Texas - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @tweetMCN, tweetMCN
Project Leader:
Deliana Garcia
Austin, Texas United States
$385 raised of $3,000 goal
5 donations
$2,615 to go
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