By Lucy Osborn MACN (ENL)
This column, The Scrubs that Fit, is all about the highs and lows of being an early-career nurse, from the perspective of an ACN Emerging Nurse Leader. The aim of these blog posts is to help ease the transition from university to grad years and beyond. Find Lucy on ACN’s neo and on Instagram @aussie_nurses.
Part of my role as an educator for Bachelor of Nursing Students is to create realistic expectations of the nursing world. One of the key things I teach my students is how our personal biases should not impact the care we give our patients and each other.
In today’s article, I want to expand on this a little further and draw on my own experiences to provide nurses and nursing students with an insight into ways of managing the influence of personal biases in our practice.
What is personal bias and how does it influence health care?
Our behaviour is constantly influenced by our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, culture and environment. This is one of the things that makes us so diverse as humans, but it also creates personal biases. To highlight what this means, I have provided Northon’s (2021) definition of the concept below.
“To have personal biases is to be human. We all hold our own subjective world views and are influenced and shaped by our experiences, beliefs, values, education, family, friends, peers and others. Being aware of one’s biases is vital to both personal well-being and professional success.”
In Australia, there are many different cultures and beliefs that we, as health care professionals, hold. This means that what is important to me and my family may not be the same for you and your family. Diverse opinions are great, but it also means that we as health care professionals are sometimes challenged about our beliefs and values when providing care to patients.
As this is a challenge most of us will face at some point in our careers, I’d like to share my own experiences and tips for how I personally manage my personal biases when they are challenged at work.
How have my own beliefs and values been challenged?
Personally, I believe it is fantastic that each person in Australia has the right to education and health care. Equal access is slowly improving, and we are ALMOST supporting our refugees (although that is a whole other issue). It is also great that those who have access now, in certain states, have the right to make their own choices including the right to refuse treatments and voluntary assisted dying.
Recently, I have come across some views held by patients of their families which challenge my own beliefs and those I have around evidence-based health care. Examples include:
- COVID-19 non-believers
- People wanting to withdraw treatment on patients with reversible conditions or want to continue painful and invasive care on patients who have little to no function of multiple organs.
Lucy the person can disagree (respectfully of course) with these decisions, but as a health care professional, I must only provide education on the benefits and risks of them. My thoughts and feelings must be put aside when treating the patient to ensure I deliver care that is completely unbiased. Furthermore, If I am unable to do this, I must acknowledge my own biases and hand over the patient to someone who can provide care without bias.
How can health professional manage personal biases at work?
It is totally normal and ok to say to other professionals, in a private conversation, that you don’t agree with a choice or pathway a patient is taking. In some situations, it is also appropriate to highlight these to the care team of the patient to ensure they are getting the care that is in their interest. Ultimately, it needs to be a group decision, patient and family included, in how we provide care. What is not okay is taking away the choice of the patient or family or making them feel like their beliefs and culture aren’t respected.
At the end of the day, we are only human, and will never be perfect, but it is important to reflect on your own biases and acknowledge them and manage them. The media often overdramatizes these events and medical TV shows are always having issues with conflicting points of interests from patients, family and medical staff. It is important to mention this as the media don’t always get it right.
What’s new hey?