Nurses care for patients from a wide variety of backgrounds. While their races, ethnicities, identities, ages, beliefs, and more will vary, all patients and nurses deserve to be treated with respect. Unfortunately, biases can easily affect relationships between patients and nurses—and these biases go both ways.
Diversity within the field of nursing is important for many reasons, including ethics. Nurses on homogenous teams will not need to increase their cultural awareness and confront their own biases without prompting, which are both important steps for developing personal ethics and providing respectful care for all patients. It is critical to increase the diversity of nursing teams and provide proper training in order to ensure compassionate, high-quality nursing care and dignity for patients and nurses alike.
The Impact of Implicit Bias, Racism, and Ageism on Patient Care
We all have implicit biases. It is nearly impossible for children to grow up without absorbing negative stereotypes based on the beliefs and biases of those around them. If you are told from an early age that a group of people is lazy, you will likely believe that, even if only subconsciously.
Implicit biases are powerful and harmful. Nurses may stereotype their patients based on their biases, resulting in a lower quality of care or causing distrust that could affect the patient’s health. Patients’ implicit biases, on the other hand, can lead to abuse of nurses and other harmful outcomes.
Trust and communication between nurses and their patients are key. If a patient feels that their nurse is behaving in a discriminatory manner, they will feel uncomfortable and may not speak up about factors affecting their health. They may also have a harder time recovering from their illness or injury.
Nurses who hold negative biases about their patients’ race or age may make poor decisions about treatment or not spend enough time with them, leading to diagnostic issues, poor follow-up, and more. Additionally, a patient who has a bad experience with a nurse will have trouble trusting medical personnel in the future.
Patients who discriminate against nurses can contribute to nurse burnout, mental health concerns, and more. Even within a nursing team, some nurses may have biases and stereotypes that affect their behavior towards colleagues. Feeling disrespected and uncomfortable around patients and colleagues can eventually cause excellent nurses to leave the profession altogether.
The Importance of Diversity & Awareness Coaching
The good news about implicit bias and discrimination is that most people aren’t intending to do harm. Although that does not excuse poor behavior, it does mean that there is hope for improvement, with the right approach. Diversity and awareness coaching is crucial in nursing ethics to reduce instances of discrimination.
Because implicit biases are often issues that we’re not aware of, everyone can benefit from this type of coaching. Nurses might think they treat patients with equal respect and dignity but find out through coaching that their implicit biases are affecting the care they provide.
Communicating and working closely with patients from different backgrounds is important. Coaching and training, combined with practical experience, make for more well-rounded, ethical nurses who can confidently provide stellar care and build trust with any patient who comes through the hospital doors.
Strategies to Tackle Discrimination in Nursing
Tackling discrimination in nursing starts with hiring practices. Hiring diverse teams helps increase nurses’ exposure to people of various backgrounds and sets the stage for increased empathy and thoughtfulness. When nurses get to know colleagues from different walks of life, they will start to see a range of thought-provoking perspectives and increase their communication skills.
Ongoing training and policy are also important. Hospitals must outline what is acceptable behavior through ongoing training and should enforce policies to protect both patients and nurses. Discrimination is a difficult and complex problem that must be addressed through a combination of leadership, ethics, and personal accountability.
Although it is more difficult to address patients’ behavior, hospitals should consider what they can do to protect staff from patient discrimination. Fighting discrimination within the nursing profession is a multifaceted initiative that will only become increasingly important as the United States grows ever more diverse and vibrant.