Nurturing the Next Generation of Health and Human Service Professionals With Hope in the Future

By Dennis Archambault

“Hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up.” This saying gives definition to an otherwise passive ideal. It’s actionable, and arguably a prerequisite for change.

At a time in which crisis permeates all aspects of life, people – especially young people – need hope that there is a way forward. Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently bemoaned the state of young people entering professional development. Some are into “fight” mode, in which they “they go out there and start blaming people for things that are sometimes justified and sometimes not.” In other times, they are in a “freeze” mode: “Young people are into burnout because they are so pained, and they go into freeze mode because they can’t act. They pull the covers over themselves because of the burnout, because of the fear and the pain and the grief and the loss that they cannot manage.”

Educators and professional mentors need to help young people manage this emotional response to crisis and act constructively with patience and resolve. “How do we get to the point where we can choose to act out of being grounded in our emotions, which means understanding, embracing the pain, not looking away,” Figueres asked. This involves an understanding that this form of grief is an “alarm bell, to not sink into the bed covers again, but jump out of bed and generate the clarity of what needs to be done.”

This is one of the objectives of the Environmental Health Research-to-Action Academy, which introduces high school students in Wayne County’s industrial corridor to the possibilities of environmental management and advocacy to promote health. Students develop agency in taking the seemingly futile effort to promote ecological well-being. Authority Health is proud to be a partner in this work.

This is also a core principle behind the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. The Fellowship engages graduate students at a point in in their professional development which they are making choices about their career direction and need a little push and encourage to help define the future. Figueres spoke of the ecological crisis. However, there are many humanitarian crises underway throughout the world, including in our regional communities.

The Schweitzer Fellowship encourages Fellows such as Claire Hawthorne, a medical student at Michigan State College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Asiimwe Najjuma, a public health student at Wayne State University, to act with hope in the future, pursuing their work in health literacy and maternal health respectively, with the expectation that their professional lives will be fortified by resilience that comes from hope. There are approximately 250 Schweitzer Fellows nationwide engaged in this year’s Fellowship.

Figueres fears that the angst of this current moment is causing many students to conclude that they are “the last generation on this planet… We have to change that mindset, not denying the reality of the fact that we’re way late and that we’re going over tipping points.” As with our response to climate change, there must be a similar response to health equity. Economic and social divisions threaten to perpetuate generations of people struggling with poor health and social alienation.

As with physical development, hope as a muscle needs to be strengthened among our young professionals (as well as older professionals…). It’s a challenge that health and human service leaders need to embrace.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.

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