Clinical care that opposes patients’ best interests is concerning and problematic. Unethical or unlawful practices compromise patient care and negatively impacts the athletic training profession, both of which violate the NATA Code of Ethics. As we uphold the Code of Ethics and the BOC Standards of Professional Practice, we are agreeing to report damaging practice in the interest of our patients and to maintain the social contract athletic trainers have with society. In this contract, in exchange for the privilege of providing health care to patients, we uphold public trust through professional and competent practice and policing clinicians who go against the standard of care.
Individuals who come forward with information about harmful practices are labeled as “Whistleblowers,” a poorly selected term that is analogous to an official of a sporting event blasting the whistle and yelling “foul.” Negative connotations affiliated with whistleblowing often impede the reporting of illicit practices. Failure to project those who report, further weaken the will to expose the wrongdoing. In other words, there is frequently a ‘shoot the messenger’ effect by the organization which can result in health, financial, and personal problems for the whistleblowers and their families. This works against the very law (Whistleblower Protection Act) designed to insulate the reporter from retaliation. Not all employers retaliate against whistleblowers, but it would be hard to argue the fact that, indeed, all whistleblowers are a threat to every institution. Without question, moral courage is required to do the right thing, even when the right thing is to prioritize the public good over loyalty to colleagues, supervisors and/or an employer.
Does your institution or organization have internal protocols for reporting practice misconduct? If not, how does the organization reduce the risk of public exposure and repercussions to the organization and to the reporter? When there are no channels or safeguards to report internally, external professional advice is encouraged. Moreover, athletic trainers are encouraged to advocate for the development of policy and guidelines should none exist. Stay tuned for more on this topic.