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Topic: Behavioral Health for Healthcare Professionals

Question: My wife is a doctor at the local hospital, and I know that she’s been struggling with the aftereffects of her work since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What resources are being made available to address the behavioral health of our healthcare providers?

Shawnda Schroeder, Ph.D., M.A.
Associate Director of Research and Evaluation, Research Associate Professor, Center for Rural Health, University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Expert's Response

Providing behavioral health support and resources for our healthcare providers is becoming a crucial task as we start to emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the federal government, in response to the tragedy of Dr. Lorna Breen dying by suicide, has recently made $140 million available to build and sustain behavioral health services for medical and behavioral health providers. Locally, the University of North Dakota has been granted funds to create a “toolkit” that will be used across the state.


The toolkit focuses primarily on provider compassion fatigue (otherwise known as “burnout”) and secondary traumatic stress, or the process by which an individual becomes traumatized through hearing about a traumatic event from someone else (instead of experiencing a trauma themselves firsthand). Unfortunately, there were not enough resources available for healthcare providers at the beginning of the pandemic when stress was building and need was greatest for behavioral health support. Thus, these new tools aid providers in not only identifying compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress, but also provide specific examples for how providers might practice active coping and better prepare themselves for future stressors. For example, healthcare providers are instructed on how to utilize motivational interviewing and shared decision-making to reduce the stress of caring for patients with complex needs during a pandemic. There are also tools to help assess one’s signs of burnout or compassion fatigue, and then tips on creating a strength-based workplace.


Additionally, there are tools directed towards the healthcare system, as it is just as important that the system functions in a way that minimizes provider burden. These organization-level tools address topics such as efficiency, workplace culture, and effective leadership. Ultimately, these tools will help the organization better foster resiliency among healthcare providers against compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress. This is particularly important for our rural health providers, who experienced increased occupational stress not only because of the pandemic, but also out of the necessity to perform dual roles at a time of high healthcare utilization.