Interprofessional Compassion to Promote Psychological Safety within Healthcare

In the face of ever-intensifying complexity of patient care and demands of an interprofessional health infrastructure, a psychologically safe workforce is exactly what we need to work towards.

At its core, healthcare is built and maintained by strong interprofessional collaboration and supportive relationships. Patient care cannot be provided without interprofessional teamwork, communication, and compassion. It goes without saying how important it is to have compassion towards your patients, but what about your fellow team members? When compassion from within the healthcare team is missing, an uncomfortable work environment is born, effectively compromising the psychological safety of the team’s members.


5 hands, each of a different color, overlapping each other as though in a team huddle

What is psychological safety, and why is it important? Simply put, psychological safety is honesty and confidence. Honesty stems from the comfort of knowing that you can admit to a mistake within your role without any unreasonably negative consequences. It also has to do with having the confidence to participate truthfully and wholeheartedly as a team member; actively contributing towards reaching the team’s overall goal. One conceptual model1 organizes psychological safety into four categories:

Inclusion safety means that people are comfortable with being part of the team and is considered to be the first stage of psychological safety. Belonging matters, and we desire to build stronger connections with our communities. When people’s sense of belonging is eroded, this can lead to far-fetching consequences through isolation and self-doubt. Being authentically accepted and included in a group while feeling safe to be oneself is thus an essential starting point towards enabling psychological safety.

Learner safety refers to the ability to learn through experimenting, asking questions, making mistakes, and engaging with bidirectional feedback. Interprofessional teams can particularly benefit from making a firm shift from a punishment mindset to a learning and progress mindset, which translates to improvement in work quality. Pursuing a higher level of knowledge without being limited by fear expands individuals’ and therefore teams’ potential.

Contributor safety highlights active participation in conversation by adding to the dialogue. It is important to feel safe enough on a team to agree with someone’s thoughts, as well as add to them by sharing your own related perspectives. Especially on interprofessional teams, members can agree on a certain notion while simultaneously experiencing very different perspectives from one another. Learning about perspectives differing from your own is incredibly valuable; it cultivates positive interprofessional relationships by encouraging appreciation and compassion for one another on a team.

Challenger safety is the final type of psychological safety. It describes feeling safe enough within your team to embrace divergent thinking, to constructively object to the status quo, and to actively contribute with new ideas and questions. Being on a team does not mean that each member has the same ideas, beliefs, and qualities. In fact, the best teams are often the most diverse and the most willing to share constructive dialogue on topics they may disagree over. It is by respectfully asking difficult questions and thinking outside the box that we grow not only individually, but collectively.

Implications for Interprofessional Collaboration

The promotion of psychological safety at an individual, team, and organizational level is particularly critical for high-intensity workplaces such as healthcare. We are currently facing a healthcare worker burnout and resignation crisis, which was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, so engaging with strategies to improve the mental health and general well-being of our healthcare workers is of utmost importance. There is a growing body of literature that provides tools to evaluate the psychological safety of teams and focuses on how to turn the concept of psychological safety into a successful action plan in healthcare settings2-4. In the face of ever-intensifying complexity of patient care and demands of an interprofessional health infrastructure, a psychologically safe workforce is exactly what we need to work towards. This will require a challenging yet necessary systemic change that begins with having compassion towards one another and taking active steps to incorporate principles of psychological safety into practice.


  1. Clark TR. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Incorporated; 2020.
  2. Edmondson AC. Psychological safety. Accessed October 9, 2023.
  3. Hunt DF, Bailey J, Lennox BR, Crofts M, Vincent C. Enhancing psychological safety in mental health services. Int J Ment Health Syst. 2021;15(1):33. doi:10.1186/s13033-021-00439-1
  4. Ma Y, Faraz NA, Ahmed F, et al. Curbing nurses' burnout during COVID-19: The roles of servant leadership and psychological safety. J Nurs Manag. 2021;29(8):2383-2391. doi:10.1111/jonm.13414
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