Victoria Haynes, DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Our nation is becoming more diverse and this increased diversity can especially be seen in healthcare. Nursing in particular serves clients from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Implicit bias is a major issue found in nursing that negatively affects these populations and can lead to health disparities. Implicit bias occurs when unconscious judgments are made that are caused by social prejudice. Since implicit bias is unconscious it is often unrecognized and becomes a part of the culture. Nurses provide quality care to patients of diverse backgrounds and in order to do this must recognize bias that can affect patient care. Some examples of implicit bias are:
- The color black is usually associated with bad or evil and white is seen as good or pure. Unconsciously we may be fearful of people who are black or treat them differently due to this association.
- Society often depicts minorities as poor and uninsured so unconsciously health care providers may assume this for all minorities and may not prescribe needed treatments leading to poor health outcomes.
These are just a couple of examples to help illustrate what implicit bias looks like in health care. Implicit bias can have detrimental effects and contribute to health disparities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in 2013 (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/ind2013_su.html#HealthDisparities2013) on health disparities and inequality. In this report, it was noted that there are significant gaps in health outcomes among racial and ethnic minorities. Some of the troubling findings included:
- Less access to health food retailers
- A higher incidence of colorectal cancer
- Higher rates of uninsured rates
- Higher rates of diabetes diagnosis and a higher rate of complications and mortality
- A higher incidence of hypertension
- A higher incidence of coronary heart disease and death due to strokes
These are only a few of the disparities that are seen in healthcare among racial and ethnic minorities. In order to reduce health disparities and achieve health equity we must take action. It will take collaborative efforts at many levels to eliminate implicit biases and to reduce disparities and inequity found in healthcare. This can seem like a daunting task but there is hope. It helps to look for small intentional ways to reduce bias. A few suggestions are listed below:
- Learn more about diverse populations through educational opportunities.
- Engage in intentional interactions with people from a different cultures.
- Conduct a self-awareness quiz to help recognize your own bias- awareness is the first step. The Implicit Association Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) is a great resource.
- Contact your local representative to increase efforts to decrease disparities.
These are a few steps we can take to help reduce implicit bias in healthcare. Together we can help to achieve health equity and optimal health outcomes for everyone.