Patient Care Tips: How to Address Implicit Bias in Nursing

Last Updated on June 10, 2024

celebrating juneteenth 2023, nurse with curly hair and wearing white scrubs and stethoscope caring for patient in tan sweater

Nursing can come with many ethical challenges, including implicit bias. However, as a nurse, you can lead the way with your compassion, care, and courage to speak up, advocate for, and empathize with your patients. As we prepare for Juneteenth, we must advocate for change, foster inclusion, and challenge our biases. 

Learn actionable steps on how to have empathy and address implicit bias in nursing.

What is Juneteenth? 

Juneteenth (June 19th) commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. after the Civil War. It’s been long celebrated by Black Americans since the late 1800s, yet it was officially signed into legislation as a federal holiday in 2021

Some spend the day amongst family and friends, while cities across the nation hold events to honor the day.

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Juneteenth, consider taking the time to work on and address your implicit biases. This is an actionable way to make a difference and commit to inclusivity, equality, and diversity, especially in the healthcare industry.

What is Implicit Bias in Nursing?

A bias is thinking, speaking, or acting in a way that discriminates, excludes, or prejudices a particular group or person. We often view biases as active, conscious efforts: Harsh words, hateful actions, and purposeful exclusion. But bias can also be implicit, or subconscious. 

Implicit biases are prejudiced beliefs, decisions, and behaviors that aren’t intentional — yet still exist and affect others. Implicit biases are often the result of our upbringings, life experiences, stereotypes, harmful pop culture, and a lack of exposure to diverse environments.

Who Can Have Implicit Bias?

We all have implicit biases, to some extent. While we’re not always aware of these biases, we can increase our mindfulness of them to become more accepting, inclusive, and ethical in our professional and personal lives.

Even though they’re not on purpose, they can still hurt others, including our patients, coworkers, and ourselves: 

Implicit Bias in Nursing: Patients

Implicit bias in nursing can greatly affect the quality of patient care. Our subconscious negative judgments can lead us to:

  • Perform unfair, inappropriate, or unethical patient assessments, diagnoses, and treatment suggestions.
  • Spend less time caring for a patient.
  • Impact a patient’s feeling of safety and openness in communication.
  • Offer less compassion and empathy to a patient.
  • Provide inadequate follow-up communication or education. 

Research shows implicit bias in nursing can prevent us from giving our full attention, care, and effort, limiting a patient’s right to fair, equitable healthcare.

> Learn more tips on how to care for difficult patients as a nurse.

Implicit Bias in Nursing: Coworkers 

In a survey with over 5,600 respondents, nurses were asked about their experiences with racism in the workplace.

72% of the Black nurse respondents reported a significant amount of racism in nursing. 92% said they personally experienced this racism from:

  • 68% – Their patients
  • 66% – Their coworkers

Additionally, over 3 in 4 said this racism negatively impacts their sense of workplace well-being. Nurses hold an ethical and professional responsibility to be advocates and allies in the workplace. We must speak up and stand up for each other to make a change. 

Implicit Bias in Nursing: Yourself

If you’re experiencing bias and discrimination against you, you’re not alone. Speak up and let someone know. There are systems in place: Find a safe person to whom you’re supposed to report any HR issues, and let them know what’s happening.

It can be scary, but change can start with you. You don’t deserve to work in an environment that doesn’t respect and recognize who you are as an individual.

How to Address Implicit Bias in Nursing

In honor of Juneteenth, consider applying these three tips to address implicit bias in nursing and provide better, more equitable care for your patients: 

1. Increase Bias Awareness

Be mindful of your thoughts, judgments, and feelings around others. Practice self-reflection. Ask yourself:

  • Do I experience any stress, fear, or anxiety around patients of a certain condition, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, age, sexuality, disability, or background?
  • Do I stereotype certain patients because of their identity?
  • What biases do I have in my personal life? How do they affect my work as a nurse? 

These stereotypes and negative expectations can lead to what we call the “snowball effect”: Because you expect a certain behavior or response, anything matching this bias is wrongfully amplified, confirming your bias. 

Self-awareness is the first step. By becoming aware of your implicit biases, you can reevaluate your decisions and interactions. You can advocate for ethical healthcare without prejudice against a patient’s identity or background. 

2. Humanize Your Patients

To address implicit bias in nursing, one patient care tip is to get to know your patients as people, not just numbers, checklists, and vitals. 

During assessments, seek to understand their health goals, priorities, values, problems, and needs. This added perspective will not only allow you to practice more empathy, but it will help you care for and treat the patient more holistically and accurately. 

3. Practice Anti-Bias Strategies

Becoming anti-bias requires mindfulness, intention, and commitment. Some research-backed strategies include:

  • Counter-stereotyping: Intentionally imagine those you negatively stereotype with the opposite belief. 
  • Habit replacement: Treat your biases as bad habits to unlearn. Try to catch yourself in your tracks and replace the thought with a positive one.
  • Embrace diversity: Stereotypes are often the result of not spending enough time with those who are different from you. If you truly knew them, you wouldn’t believe the stereotype! 
  • Partnership building: View your patients as equal partners in healthcare: You are working together to reach their healthcare goals. 
  • Mindfulness: Stop for a moment and breathe. Observe your biased thoughts from an outside perspective. Challenge the thought and prove it wrong.

Build Your Nursing Career & Community

Becoming the best nurse you can be requires an ongoing commitment to learning, education, and community. From career advancement and patient care tips to nursing job opportunities nationwide, we’re here to help you grow!

Remember to use your resources when faced with challenging or ethical situations. For instance, our 24/7 Clinical Services Team is available to provide support to nurses and clinicians on assignments throughout the country. 

Quick apply now to connect with a recruiter and discover your next great opportunity.