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Empathy: The way to Practice without Prejudice

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The Old “Book by its Cover” Saying

A few months ago, while taking a much needed brain break at work, I found myself scrolling through my social media account. I zipped past the latest celebrity gossip articles and posts about cold water causing heart attacks (gotta love pseudoscience). Then, something caught my eye, someone had posted on a Nurse Practitioner group a guide to appropriate titles and phrases for intersex patients. While a few thanked the contributor for the information, the comment section had posts laced with transgender fetish “jokes” to outright hostility. Many of the commenters felt that the post was to push an sexual identity agenda they did not agree with.

The negative comments on the post were disappointing for a two reasons. First, many bemoaned the post for its “transgender agenda”. C’mon people! Nurse Practitioners should know that Intersex and transgender are NOT the same thing. As healthcare providers this difference should be crystal clear.

Second, I worried about patient care practices. While, I wholeheartedly believe that you can give competent care to a patients whose values and beliefs you do not agree with. I also am aware that this can be extremely difficult at times.

Recently, a colleague shared with me that she was horrified by the poor level of care a family member had received because they were heavily tattooed and pierced. Sadly, these stories are endless. Patients reporting being treated less than because of political or religious beliefs, mental health issues, sexual orientation, race or socioeconomic status.

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Chipping away at our “Stubborn Views”

Most healthcare providers feel they are able to treat each patients equally. However, if humans are one thing, they are falliable. We have outside influences and experiences that shape our views. Sometimes for the best and sometimes for the worst. How is it possible to overcome our partiality? The answer seems to be Empathy.

Empathy is essential to practice. Nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman wrote A concept analysis of empathy. In it she outlines the four attributes of empathy.

  • To be able to see the world as others see it. …
  • No-Judgement ā€“ to be nonjudgmental. …
  • Understand Feelings ā€“ to understand another person’s feelings. …
  • Communicate Understanding ā€“ to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings.

I had to revisit my empathy training a few weeks ago when I saw a women for a serious cardiac issue. During the visit, she made some comments about certain ethnic groups she believed got better access to healthcare than “real Americans”. I reminded her politely that I was not interested in moral, political or social conversations but wanted to discuss medical or procedural approaches to her condition.

Although I found her comments vile, I did not feel that would justify treating her differently. I still gave her the same care I would want my mother to receive.

The fact of the matter is, patients will have beliefs and opinions that we do not agree with. They will also not look just like you. There are also patients that will share your same views entirely and could be your doppelganger. If we can implement empathy in our “code of conduct for patient care” correctly, all patients will receive excellent care without feeling marginalized.

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