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AORN Blog - The Periop Life

3 Ways to Uncover Biases (At Work and In Life)

Health Inequalities
June 13, 2021


Dr. Williams
David Williams, MD, Co-Chair of the Future of Nursing Committee, Norman Professor of Public Health; Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School of Public Health

As the first and most frequent point of contact for patients, nurses play a critical role in achieving health equity, according to the recently released Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report from the National Academy of Medicine Committee.

To reach that goal, we must recognize treatment inequalities based on race and ethnicity, according to David Williams, MD, co-chair of the Future of Nursing committee, Norman Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

Healthcare professionals may unconsciously use social categorization and assumptions based on a person’s external characteristics as a “short cut” when providing care to patients, stated Williams.  

These implicit biases are normal. “I tell students that I’m a prejudiced person too,” he says.

Taking the time to understand the patient as an individual, rather than rely on assumptions, is one of the most important actions perioperative nurses can take to advance health equity.

In a busy hospital environment, slowing down and really getting to know each patient may be difficult, Williams acknowledges.

He encourages periop nurses to practice these thought processes in everyday life to become more aware of potential biases at work and beyond:

  1. Perspective taking. Be curious about what the person’s life has been like and ask open-ended questions to get a sense of their experience.
  2. Individualization. Take the time to see each person as an individual and what makes them unique.
  3. Contra-stereotype imaging. Recognize an assumption you have about people with certain physical characteristics, such as race or gender. Then imagine the individual being the opposite of what you initially expected.

When perioperative nurses recognize biases and improve interpersonal relationships with patients, they can help reduce disparities in healthcare. When patients feel a connection to their care providers, surgical outcomes can be improved.

Global Surgical Conference & Expo

Dr. Williams will be speaking more about Understanding and Effectively Addressing Social Inequities in Health at Global Surgical Conference & Expo in Orlando, FL August 7-10.

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