Before now, the question, “Why SWEET?” has never been fully articulated in this way. But, consider a day in the life of a busy healthcare professional. It is almost, always, far from business as usual. Deadlines, stress provoking decisions, patients and clients waiting to be seen, and unexpected surprises become the norm, more so than the exception. If you consider front line clinicians, often out in the field, the situation can be even more complex. Many of them are social workers, some of the most overworked, under paid and busiest clinicians.
One morning, a small group of clinicians managed to carve out time to sit and reflect, asking each other, “Are we really making a difference; would the poor, disjointed work systems ever change; do we need to consider a “plan B;” will it ever be possible to take vacations and not have clients left to themselves, only to suffer setbacks.” Someone offered a solution, “Maybe we just need to keep working and think later about the repercussions of burn out.”
Understanding “Why SWEET?,” the mission and the vision of the SWEET Institute, in light of the above, all-too-real story, begs the following questions:
1. How has SWEET emerged to support health professionals, and now, in particular, social workers.
2. How will the SWEET Institute provide a unique comprehensive community for professional development?
3. What can SWEET do to reach the frontline staff and, at the same time, bridge the communication gap, helping executive teams to become more attuned to their staff and the clients, whom they in turn serve?
A few members of the team weigh in, telling us what brought them to SWEET, what they plan to accomplish, and how much they need your help to be successful.
Mardoche Sidor, SWEET’s president and founder responds this way. I have been a medical director in three different systems for health delivery, and I have also been on the ground with staff, patients and clients; I, too, have had my share of burn out. While I have been able to sublimate that and remain grounded to the work, closer to my patients and clients, and supportive to my psychiatry staff and first line clinicians, I have always felt a more transformative approach was needed, a bottom up approach, a real intermediary between the clinical and the administrative staff—a liaison—someone looking out for all of us who are taking care of others.
Health professionals are humans, too. They give their best to their patients and clients, and someone needs to support them. Unfortunately, the system design does not encourage this. With little time or safe place to reflect on the work, and given that double, and even triple, bookings have become the norm, the system’s default is set-up to fail our patients and clients, and then us, who are doing our best to care for them.
We clinicians have been left alone to take on the issue, and we are doing just that. We know how to best care and advocate for others, and we now only need to support each other, if we are to continue being there for our patients and clients. “If not us, then who; if not now, then when; and, if not this then what?” If we do not take a step, things will not stay the same, they will only get worse. A social work colleague said it this way, “We will continue to burn out until we explode and we will not even want to see clients anymore." How much longer can we wait before this happens? More importantly, if we do nothing, our patients and clients, our loved ones, and the generations to come will only suffer.
SWEET has taken on this cause now, because some issues are too important to wait any longer. But, it takes a village, and SWEET invites all of you to join the movement, to stand for our patients and clients, for our colleagues and ourselves, and for our profession and a better designed and humanized system. —Mardoche Sidor, MD
Karen Dubin McKnight, a social worker and co-founder of SWEET shares her perspective. I am an advocate who has used social work as my vehicle to affect change—for other people. When I consider what SWEET has to offer, the impact of the movement, and the urgency in the belief that social workers can be prioritized and made to feel like a priority, in the world of health professionals, I am both inspired and terrified. I have always struggled to be an advocate for myself, and I have frequently failed to use my own voice when it was necessary to stand up for the things that were important to me, all the things that I deserved professionally.
Changing that narrative—my narrative—also means changing my professional, and, perhaps, personal identity. How I've been socialized in the world of work, and, on a bigger scale, sets the stage for the further professionalization of the social work practice, because social work is, indeed, a profession.
After working in systems that have not prioritized supervision, mentoring, and training, and feeling and seeing the cost to myself and other social workers, I am ready now. I am ready to find my voice and advocate for not just other people, but myself as well. I am ready to help create a supportive community, one for which I, too, want to be a part of. I am ready to help my community of social workers know our value and have the tools to grow professionally. I am ready to help change the way social workers come into the profession, so that future social work leaders have the things they need to continue to do this work, while remaining healthy. I am ready for SWEET. —Karen Dubin McKnight, PhD, LCSW, MBAc
As a consultant on business development, Lelia Elliston shares from personal experience. I have social workers among my family and friends, and I come to SWEET having witnessed first hand what front-line social workers go through on a daily basis, in order to meet their quota and billable hours. And, all this exists to the point of exhaustion. I have seen that despite this, many social workers persist, dedicated to the work, the families and the people they serve. However, I have also seen how the level of burn out leads some social workers to leave the profession all together. I joined SWEET to be part of the movement that will help all social workers and other health professionals have the support they need to remain in the profession they love.” —Lelia Elliston, PhD
Dimitri Suffrin, director of research methods, gives some very thoughtful feedback. As I always present myself as a social justice advocate, I am constantly concerned with people's suffering, and with how to understand more closely their lived-experiences. As long as I can remember, I have always worked with the oppressed, the poor, the excluded, the limited, and the voiceless. SWEET has revealed itself to me not only as an institution or a model, but also as a movement that has taken the idea of caring for those in need to a higher level. Anchoring on an ecological framework, SWEET is devoted to those (the caregivers) who are taking care of others. SWEET's approach is a person-oriented one, where personalized support is provided to the work and the life of one, to impact and to change the lives of many. Joining SWEET is acknowledging the work of millions of dedicated professionals, caregivers striving every day to turn the tide. Therefore, to the pragmatic questioning of who is taking care of the caregivers? How do we help those caregivers confronted by the lack of incentives, poor career prospects, lack of recognition of merit, as well as the probability that they will forever stay in a peripheral part of the health system? Standing out of the line, SWEET stands as the answer to these questions and I felt strongly compelled by the answer. —Dimitri Suffrin, MD, MMSc
Roger Maginley, a trained surgeon and SWEET pioneer concludes by saying: As blog editor, when I reflect on my experience as a health professional, going back to my graduate medical training and education, that overwhelmed and overworked reality, with little time to replenish, staving off looming burnout is still so vivid. There was something that kept you going, nonetheless, that sense of altruism saying, “Patient’s health needs before your own.” It was a generally acceptable way of coping that most adopted into the work ethic. But the SWEET Institute is demonstrating a new courage to challenge and change some of the accepted narratives. “Taking better care of patients and clients also mean giving priority to our own wellbeing.” We, at SWEET, envision this trickle down effect having better quality sustainability for health professionals and patients and clients. I am eager to follow SWEET’s continued progress to this end. I invite you to join us in this new movement venture. What ways do you need to demonstrate courage to challenge a generally accepted practice or system, especially one that has not been working that well? This is my “Why SWEET.” —Roger Maginley, MD, and MBA
This is only the beginning for us, for all of us. You have heard a few of our executive team member’s share from the heart on what SWEET means to them. This is the foundation of our mission and our purpose. Through our interactions with more than 1000 people about their experiences, we also realized that we have begun to help catalyze a movement that will script a new narrative for social workers and other health professionals.
Please share your experiences with us. Help us become what you've always envisioned - what the support you needed in your career would look like. Bring your voice to the table.
Join, share, give, volunteer, and be the pioneer for something bigger than all of us combined!