According to the Perception Institute, implicit bias is a term used to “describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it.” While implicit bias can be found in every aspect of society, nursing is, unfortunately, not an exception. Read on for ANA-Illinois’ analysis of this topic, as well as some steps to take to combat implicit bias. 

Implicit Bias in Nursing

While most people do the best that they can to treat everyone fairly and equally, implicit bias can cause one to, unknowingly, treat others unfairly. In nursing, this can occur in interactions between students and nursing instructors, nurses and patients, and everything in between. One ANA-Illinois member noted that she had witnessed implicit bias in a number of different situations. 

“I have seen implicit bias towards patients of color when inquiring about pain medication. The nurse will respond much more negatively when asked. I’ve also seen it the other way, with a patient having a bias towards a nurse. This happened when a patient thought that a white colleague was the nurse leader and not the person of color. I have lived with implicit bias in my professional life so much that it almost seems abnormally normal.” 

Despite this, implicit bias is not confined to a hospital setting and is just as likely to appear in colleges and universities. Another one of our members has experience with implicit bias in this environment. 

“I’ve observed Implicit bias in nursing education when Black or Hispanic nursing students are assumed to have less knowledge than their white counterparts because they may articulate their thoughts or thought processes differently. In addition, white preceptors or instructors may unconsciously gravitate towards shite students with shared interests, backgrounds or experiences and provide more opportunities, engagement, practice or mentorship, exacerbating the bias.” 

Addressing Biases

By its very definition, implicit bias is unable to be seen by the individual who holds the bias. For this reason, it is important to listen to feedback from colleagues who may pick up on implicit bias. Another helpful tool for identifying one’s own biases is the Implicit Association Test. These tests are available online, and Harvard has a free one here

Apart from addressing implicit biases on an individual level, it is also imperative to address it at an institutional level. In order to do so, ANA-Illinois member, Angela Henderson, PhD, RN offered some helpful suggestions. 

“Companies and institutions should attempt to create a diverse workforce and provide leadership in this area,” Angela said. “In addition, sincerely addressing these types of concerns at places of employment and hiring employees who believe in these ideas can also go a long way.”

Member Christina Lattner DNP Ed., AGNP-C, ANP-BC cites the importance of education. Member Diann Martin, PhD, RN, agrees. “Faculty training, practice presentations with a coach, and peer review can all help address these biases.”

ANA-Illinois Vice-President Monique Reed adds, “White preceptors or instructors can create intentional mentoring opportunities for Black and Hispanic nursing students.  This, combined with implicit bias training will assist with increasing awareness and self-identifying opportunities for improvement.”

ANA-IL Works Against Implicit Bias

Although implicit biases can be difficult to spot in oneself, we at the American Nursing Association: Illinois believe in combating implicit bias at both an individual and institutional level. If you have any thoughts on how to combat implicit biases, we want to hear them. Please contact us here