Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network

Human Rights Defenders

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1



“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.”

― Mahatma Gandhi
“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary
“It's the hardest thing in the world to go on being aware of someone else's pain.”
― Pat Barker

Too Close For Comfort

"When even one American – who has done nothing wrong, is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth then all Americans are in peril."
 Harry Truman

The entire family and all those close to the Medical Whistleblower are affected when a Medical Whistleblower faces retaliation. Under stress it can become very difficult to maintain boundaries between work and family, and those closest to the Whistleblower may suffer the effects of stress caused by the working environment. With Whistleblower Retaliation in particular, the spouse and the children may themselves be targeted in attempts to undermine the Whistleblower.  A better understanding of stress and the effects it can have on a person can help to those closest to the Medical Whistleblower deal with the signs of stress.  Those supporting the Whistleblower need to know how to respond to the retaliation.   Necessary action can be taken sooner rather than later to protect the Whistleblower from additional psychological violence in the workplace and before lasting emotional damage results.   It is important to recognize that in most cases harassment and bullying can only be stopped by the intervention of someone from outside the situation who has the power to take sanctions against the perpetrator.  Reconciliation attempts usually do more harm than good, empowering the perpetrator and disempowering  the person being targeted.

What about indirect victims?  UN Basic Principles and Guidelines (2005)

“Persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, or serious violations of international humanitarian law.  Where appropriate, and in accordance with domestic law, the term ‘victim’ also includes the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization.”

In other words, witnesses, dependants of a direct victim, friends and other relatives, non-governmental organizations (juristic persons)

“Folks, I'm telling you,
Birthing is hard
And Dying is mean
So get yourself
Some loving in between.”

_ Langston Hughes

A Walk In The Woods With Me

Changing Jobs

For the sake of their health, Medical Whistleblowers  may need to move as soon as possible to a new position away from the stress, but often discover that they were being hindered by fabricated allegations in their professional references.  Often in an effort to find safety and security in their lives,  Medical Whistleblowers move from one job to the next, each step with lower pay, longer hours and less benefits.   This causes significant financial stress on the family and can strain personal friendships  and religious and social ties.   The stressed person struggles even harder to prove they can cope.  But this is a recipe for disaster, as almost inevitably the person will suffer further problems with retaliation which may eventually force them to resign or retire. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7


Counseling will achieve little if the cause of the  stress is not addressed.  Counseling itself is a stressful process and as such is generally contraindicated for people who are already suffering from any significant stress.   General counselors are often trained largely in dealing with people's endogenous or intra-psychic problems (those which come from within), and may be highly skilled in doing so.   However, they may have less training or experience in dealing with employment-related concerns such as stress and/or workplace bullying, where the source of the difficulty is external.   Misplaced or misguided counseling, however well intentioned, can do serious damage to stressed and bullied people by feeding and reinforcing their own feelings of failure and self-blame, challenging their reality, and pushing them further into stress breakdown.   Employees may feel concerned that their confidentiality could be compromised, and this concern is not entirely groundless.   Hostile psychiatric evaluations used to remove the targeted Whistleblower from his/her employment are commonplace, so is a Fitness for Duty examination that removes the Whistleblower’s badge or security clearance.   Medical Peer Review practices are aimed at removing the medical license from the Medical Whistleblower not at assisting them in Telling Truth to Power.   Referring stressed people for work-based counseling helps perpetuate the myth that it is the person who is the problem, rather than the working environment.   In addition, where workplace bullying and whistleblower retaliation is involved, and/or the whistleblower’s continued employment is under question, there can be boundary problems.   Where the stress has been caused by workplace harassment and bullying, it also allows the perpetrators to switch the focus of attention away from their own abusive behavior by inferring, usually under the guise of sympathy and support, that the person they are targeting is mentally ill, and that it is their "mental illness" which is responsible for the current problems within the workplace.   The whistleblower may feel safer talking to someone who is further removed from their situation.   A better option would be to tackle the actual problems in the working environment.   A responsible employer should look to see what changes can be made in the working environment, and to reduce the expectations on the stressed person.

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one;he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

Psalm 22:24

“for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Praise Is Like Sunlight To The Human Spirit

“Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. But not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don't know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.”

― C. JoyBell C.


People with PTSD may experience a variety of somatic and psychological complaints, including sleep disturbance, outbursts of anger, or an exaggerated startle response. (They jump at sudden noises or movements).   A characteristic of PTSD is the remembering of the trauma, and sometimes actually reliving the events in the mind.   Medical Whistleblowers have recurrent recollections of the event, distressing dreams about what happened, or some other form of   psychological rehashing of the event.   As a result, the Whistleblower avoids all situations that might be a reminder of the trauma, and tends to react with significant anxiety whenever there is a reminder of the event.  These precipitating events are called Triggers.   These violent recollections can have a serious impact  on a person's feelings, and the physiological reactions  to these feelings, become patterns of anticipation,  which in turn create more maladaptive feelings.

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds"
- Samuel Adams

This mutual interaction between anticipation and fear  promotes what has sometimes been described as “isolation and paralysis of the mind.”  Social relationships  often suffer, as the person becomes more withdrawn and detached.   There is a dehumanising aspect  of the trauma that creates a sense of not being connected to humanity and the human race and a lack of the ability to keep an empathic connection.   There is often a profound lack of trust, isolation from society,  emotional numbing and a fear of feeling– called anhedonia.   This fear of feeling or emotional distance is very hard on intimate relationships and many Medical Whistleblowers find themselves loosing their  loved ones right when they need them most.   To promote healing and to empower the Medical Whistleblower,  loving and understanding colleagues, friends, partners, and family are necessary to counteract the dehumanizing effects of the trauma.   Social networks need to be established to provide comfort and support to family members and the close personal network of the Medical Whistleblower. 

"You have to have courage to love somebody. Because you risk everything. Everything."

-Maya Angelou

Common Reactions of Whistleblowers to Retaliation Trauma

Anxiety and Fear
Anger, Depression
Flashbacks /Unwanted, Intrusive & Distressing Memo-ries of Retaliation Events
Difficulty Concentrating
Self-blame, Guilt
Social Isolation
Shutting down or Emotional numbing
Physical health symptoms

"Being defeated is only a temporary condition; giving up is what makes it permanent."

  Marilyn vos Savant

“If I can listen to what he tells me, if I can understand how it seems to him, if I can sense the emotional flavor which it has for him, then I will be releasing potent forces of change within him.” 

                                         Carl Rogers

How Can You Help?

Allow the whistleblower to take the lead in their recovery. Let them talk about the retaliation on their own time schedule and remember that your role is to be supportive not therapeutic.   Create a safe environment in which they can count on you—for “simply being there” or even for talking through the moment. Recognize that you are not going to FIX IT and there is nothing that you can do to erase the personal trauma of the retaliation. Listen without judgment, BELIEVE what the person is telling you about the Retaliation and leave analysis of the truth of the Whistleblower’s allegations to someone more qualified.

“Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the gratefully and appreciating heart.”

Henry Clay

Validate their feelings of anger, pain, sadness, fear, shame and accept the way the Whistleblower describes that experience.

The Retaliation will cause the Whistleblower to question whom to trust.  In a number of different ways relationships are the first thing to be impacted after retaliation has occurred.

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all."

Dale Carnegie

Remember that every person heals differently—at their own pace, in their own time, and follow their own journey to recovery.

Avoid the “count your blessings” statements that may be heard as judgmental and possibly trivialize what has happened.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

Encourage the person to get the help they feel they need—whether that is to push for further investigation of the whistleblower’s allegations, legal representation, psychological counseling,  going to Yoga or Self-Defense classes, moving to a new state, disconnecting with their old social network, reconnecting with their faith, learning to meditate, learning a new hobby or pursuing a law degree —whatever.

"The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.... A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words."

Rachel Naomi Remen

Let the Whistleblower take the lead in asking for referrals and supportive advocacy because they are in the best position to assess their own situation and needs.

Between you and every goal that you wish to achieve, there is a series of obstacles, and the bigger the goal, the bigger the obstacles. Your decision to be, have and do something out of the ordinary entails facing difficulties and challenges that are out of the ordinary as well. Sometimes your greatest asset is simply your ability to stay with it longer than anyone else."

Brian Tracy

"There is a word meaning "All My Relations." 
We will live by this word. 
We are related to everything. 
We are still here! 
We shall live! 
Mitakuye Oyasin" 

-Black Elk, a Lakota holy man

“...treat people with understanding when you can, and fake it when you can't until you do understand.”
― Kim Harrison

“It's the hardest thing in the world to go on being aware of someone else's pain.”

― Pat Barker

Vicarious Trauma


Vicarious Trauma can occur to people trying to support the Whistleblower. Whistleblower Retaliation and Workplace Bullying can be devastating for the Whistleblower as well as his/her friends, family, partners, room-mates, teachers, co-workers, social workers, police officers, neighbors and any one attempting to provide support. Retaliation causes an array of emotions in even those supportive to the Whistleblower. There are several ways in which you can be supportive and help the Whistleblower facing Retaliation but be aware that as a part of the support network—you also may need extra support and you must weigh your own thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs around what the Whistleblower is experiencing.

    “Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.  Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune, but great minds rise above them.”

Washington Irving

A formula that we have found helpful comes from "The ABCs of self-care are Awareness, Balance and Connection" (Saakvitne & Pearlman, 1996 - see the reference below).

The ABCs are as follows:

Awareness: You must first be able to identify the signs and symptoms of unhealthy stress and the effects of trauma (whether experienced first- or second-hand). This requires awareness.

Balance: Seek balance among a number of different types of activities, including work, personal and family life, rest and leisure.

Connection: Build connections and supportive relationships with your coworkers, friends, family and community. All the work you do to create a better society will have little meaning if you don’t experience positive and healthy connections along the way to this better place.

The New Tactics in Human Rights: A Resource for Practitioners has a brief section on "Self-Care: Caring for your most valuable resource" on page 164-165 of the book. You will find some questions that can be used to open discussion in pairs, in small groups or within your organization to take time to discuss the ways in which you are coping — individually and collectively — with the stress of doing human rights work. 


In the tiger's mouth: an empowerment guide for social action, Katrina Shields, 1991, Millennium Books, Newtown, N.S.W ISBN: 0855748923 (pbk.) This book uides you through the big issues that show up in activism: how to avoid burn-out, network, create stable groups, as well as how to approach listeners with bad news that they may not want to hear. The guide includes exercises that encourage discovery and growth, both for individuals and groups.

Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatization. Karen W. Saakvitne, Laurie Ann Pearlman, and the staff of the Traumatic Stress Institute. Published by W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.: New York, 1996. A practical, how-to guide on secondary traumatization designed for all levels of professionals, paraprofessionals, and volunteers who work with traumatized persons. Contains exercises for individuals and groups that come from the authors' experience giving workshops on this topic.

This being human is a guest house by Rumi

I invited in all the visitors, just as the poem advises. I invited the nastiness, the judgment, the self-loathing and self-doubting aspects of myself to the dinner table like old friends. Friends I had strayed from, friends I had abandoned carelessly without stopping to think about what they might be there to teach me. I had been worried that they would all start drinking too much, bring out my favorite old cigarettes and start acting like irresponsible teenagers. 

But I agreed to listen to what these friends had to say, not from a perspective of judging, but from one of receptivity and fearlessness.  And they were ready to talk! I had to prepare myself for the listening, for the feeling of these feelings. Profound loving presence, as modeled by my mentor and friends in the program, was the only route toward liberating these persistent, shadowy friends.

I learned that they would rather be light beings, free of heavy curtains, out of hiding. They would prefer to be heard, just like any person would, acknowledged for their struggles and also for their gifts. Darkness came out.  I extended my hand with compassionate regard, and flipped on the light switch.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia

Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network


P.O. 42700 

Washington, DC 20015

MedicalWhistleblowers (at)


"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."  Confucius

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt- Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic", delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910