Examining moral injury among public safety personnel
May 25, 2021
With an active research portfolio that focuses on applied philosophy in health care, Dr. David Malloy, King’s Principal, continues to lead by example at an institution that aspires to be more research-intensive. A rarity among senior administration in Canadian education institutions, Dr. Malloy continues to conduct research with regards to moral injury among public safety personnel (PSP).
Having worked in the area of applied ethics and leadership for approximately three decades, Dr. Malloy explains that moral injury research “demonstrates the real-life implications of decision-making and the impact on an individual’s health when morals and values are contravened. I would like to see future research on moral injury focus on leadership behaviour - role modelling and developing organizational cultures - that foster ethical, and virtue-based climates and existential awareness to help prepare PSP for the morally injurious events that they will undoubtedly face in their challenging line of work.”
Dr. Malloy says he has several motivations for this type of research. “First, I believe that we are helping people come to terms with some of the tragedy they have and will experienced through their service. Second, we are working toward the development of preventative training in terms of hardiness, resilience, and moral awareness of decision-making. Finally, we are demonstrating just how practical philosophy can be in developing and maintaining our ability to make sound decisions and foster mental health,” he says.
Dr. Malloy shared his research during a presentation on April 28, 2021, on “Compromised Conscience: What do we know, think we know, and need to know about Moral Injury in Public Safety Personnel” as part of the International Webinar Series on Military, Veteran and Families Wellbeing, presented by the Australasian Services Care Network (ASCN) New Zealand.
Dr. Malloy was joined by colleagues Dr. Lorraine Smith MacDonald, a Postdoctoral Fellow within the Heroes in Mind, Advocacy, and Research Consortium (HiMARC) in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, at the University of Alberta, and Dr. Liana Lentz, Postdoctoral Associate at Western University and the Canadian Institute of Public Safety Research and Training (CIPSRT).
Drs. Malloy, Smith MacDonald and Lentz discussed what public safety personnel (PSP) must endure as part of their jobs. PSP are regularly exposed to events involving human suffering while making quick decisions involving ethics of service, care, and protection which may violate personal morals, values, or beliefs. At the same time, they must juggle multiple responsibilities in uncertain or ambiguous situations. These experiences can lead to varying degrees of moral suffering including psychological, existential, behavioural, and interpersonal distress, harm or impairment which can lead to moral injury, occupational impairments and stress-related psychological injuries.
The presentation was part of a series of webinars developed by ASCN in collaboration with its partners in the intelligence communities of each of the Five Eyes countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom).
Making the presentation “was extremely satisfying because in the audience, in addition to academics, were policy makers, senior administrators, psychologists, and personnel from the public safety and military organisations from the so-called Five Eyes countries - Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the Americans. As a result, the individuals attending could actually make use of our findings to promote morally safer working environments for PSP. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive - not only about the research/data we have collected regarding mental health, but also about the philosophical landscape that we are trying to communicate/clarify and the importance that morals, ethics, and values have in leadership.” says Dr. Malloy.
The research has also resulted in an article entitled “Compromised Conscience: A Scoping Review of Moral Injury Among Firefighters, Paramedics, and Police Officers” that was published by Frontiers in Psychology.
Dr. Malloy was joined in his efforts for the article by Drs. Lentz and Smith MacDonald as well as Dr. Nicholas Carleton, Professor at the University of Regina and Dr. Suzette Bremault-Phillips, Associate Professor at the University of Alberta and the Director of HiMARC, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. During his previous role as Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina, Dr. Malloy worked with the researchers during the establishment of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Trauma (CIPRST) in 2018.
“The article was quite a bit of work, as they all, are but the bulk of the effort was put forth by my outstanding colleagues - my post doctoral fellow Dr. Liana Lentz and my research associate Dr. Lorraine Smith-MacDonald - both funded by my Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant that I had transferred from the University of Regina,” says Dr. Malloy.
While Dr. Malloy continues to research moral injuries, he stresses that “my primary interest as a Principal and a scholar is to ensure that King’s can be that place where morals are respected, where ethical decisions and processes occur and where individuals can put their values into action (virtues) and find meaning in their work and study - this I think is the true role of leadership - all else is secondary.”