Professional grief, as stated by palliative care expert and social worker Dr. Elizabeth J. Clark, is the grief response one experiences when confronted with multiple and continuous losses at the worksite. First responders, healthcare workers, law enforcement officials, chaplains, social workers, and even veterinarians experience professional grief. This type of grief is dissimilar from the grief experienced with the loss of a loved one in that it often shows itself as fatigue, irritability, blame, cynicism, and anxiety more so than sorrow. Unfortunately, this grief is often unrecognized and unacknowledged. Demands of the job, organizational hierarchies, and expectations of professional detachment often contribute to the suppression and ignoring of professional grief. Left unaddressed, professional grief can lead to burnout, post-traumatic stress, and loss of hope personally and professionally.
The Professional Grief Program at Michael’s Place is designed to meet the bereavement needs of healthcare and other professionals working in high loss environments. It was founded by our program director, Melissa Fournier, LMSW, who previously worked in perinatal, pediatric, and adult hospice, and was also raised by an ICU nurse. Seeing the impact of often-hidden grief that continuous exposure to death elicits in healthcare workers, she committed herself to creating opportunities for this grief to be addressed rather than suppressed. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Melissa initiated a call for submissions from healthcare workers on their experiences of professional grief and co-edited The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief, which was published in 2020 by The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. (www.healersburden.com) She also formed a Professional Grief Committee at Michael’s Place with Drs. Bill Smith and Leslie Heimburger, medical educator Yasmin Richmond, and Kathy Bowers, RN, to collaborate on program design.
Michael’s Place offers peer support for professional grief facilitated by our program director, tailored to meet the needs of the workplace served. Support is offered at the workplace site and via Zoom. Michael’s Place also offers presentations and education on the topic of professional grief, as well as consultation on how to establish professional grief programs in your workplace or community bereavement center. Our goal is not only to provide support to those working in high loss environments, but to create a shift in how professional grief is handled within organizational systems.
For more information on the Professional Grief Program contact Michael’s Place at GoodGrief@MyMichaelsPlace.net or (231) 947-6453.
Recommended Reading on Professional Grief:
The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief: Work in high-loss healthcare environments commonly demands turning away from one’s interior experiences in order to rapidly turn toward the next patient. In a culture that discourages vulnerability, how can a care provider effectively deal with the challenging emotions that naturally arise when faced with death? The Healer’s Burden contains a broad array of artistic and accessible perspectives of healthcare workers from multiple disciplines as they bravely pull back the curtain on their experiences of loss. Co-edited by Michael’s Place Program Director, Melissa Fournier. Learn more about The Healer’s Burden