Expert Tips for Addressing Bias in Maternal Health
Advice from a labor-and-delivery nurse educator.
During her 16 years in labor-and-delivery nursing, Stephanie Little has celebrated unforgettable moments with new moms and their families. She’s also supported women through anxiety, panic, and heartbreak.
Sometimes those situations have been clouded by bias.
“Healthcare providers often don’t realize the biases they have about weight, age, race, gender, sexuality, or disability. Or whether a woman is married when she has a baby or if they choose to bottle feed or breastfeed,” says Little. “When we perpetuate those biases in our language, our documentation, or reports to other providers, it can lead to inequitable treatment.”
Tips for Eliminating Bias
Little is a frontline nurse; co-chair of her local chapter of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; and a visiting professor at Chamberlain University, an Adtalem Global Education institution. She says change starts with working to address root causes.
- Recognize that we all have biases. “Human brains are wired to look for patterns to create shortcuts based on our environment. Depending on what we are exposed to in life, we develop subconscious neural connections that influence our actions. When we aren’t aware of those biases, it, it can impact how we care for patients.”
- Implement bias training. Improved cultural competency training for healthcare providers and institutions plays a crucial role in reducing disparities in maternal healthcare. Training helps address the systemic and individual factors that contribute to them. Improving cultural competence and humility calls for nurses to better understand their cultural perspective and to actively learn about cultures other than their own.
- Create a safe space and encourage self-reflection. You need a learning environment where healthcare providers can have conversations on bias and feel safe. This requires self-reflection and gaining an awareness of personal biases. “But if participants feel judged or if they’re belittled, they won’t open up, they won’t receive any of the education that we’re trying to give them.”
- Make the patient part of the healthcare team. Interdisciplinary collaboration among healthcare providers, and shared decision-making with the mother are part of the solution. “The doctor has a focus, the nurse has a focus, and the patient has a focus,” says Little. “We have to bring all of that together. When we work as a team, maternal outcomes will improve.”
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