Considering the unprecedented strain clinicians face while working on the COVID-19 frontline, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), and other leading U.S. medical associations have signed a joint statement outlining a series of steps intended to ensure that physicians, nurses, and other workers can access care for mental or other healthcare issues.

The joint statement urges the removal of any barriers that might hinder healthcare workers seeking to obtain mental health services, and urges credentialing agencies to ensure clinicians are not discouraged from seeking professional help or from joining peer support groups. To the contrary, the statement calls on credentialing agencies to both support and expand access to treatment programs.

“A physician’s choice to address his or her mental health should be encouraged, not penalized,” ACEP President William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, said in a news release accompanying the statement. “Efforts to preserve and protect the mental health of emergency care teams should be prioritized now and in the aftermath of this pandemic.”

According to the statement, clinicians often have legitimate fears that seeking treatment for mental health concerns may lead to the loss of licensure, income, or other career harms. Such fears could deter clinicians from seeking the help they require. However, the statement emphasizes the wellness of the healthcare workforce is needed to ensure patient care.

“As important as providing personal protective equipment is the need to ensure the mental health of our frontline clinicians is attended to during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jeffrey Geller, MD, MPH, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said in a news release accompanying the statement. “Each healthcare professional should seek help if needed without hesitation, and should be helped to do so by a colleague if such assistance is necessary.”