It didn’t seem as if the person on the street were injured or in distress, but I wondered what would happen if they were ill and entered the hospital whose front door was just a block away. Would they have the same access to healthcare as the young man who took the photo?
I have no doubt that the person would be allowed into the hospital emergency room and would even receive medical attention. But the term access encompasses so much more than just the ability to walk through a door. How would they be treated? Would they feel welcomed? How long would they wait before being seen? How would the hospital staff and physicians talk to them? Would the staff be kind or condescending? If pain medication were requested, would it be provided? Would any member of the staff or faculty just touch this person gently on the shoulder to provide comfort? And what happens after urgent medical care is given?? Will followup care be arranged?
Each of us carries our own set of biases – a cadre of ingrained inclinations or preferences that influences our judgment. Bias can sometimes be as simple as making assumptions about people based on their appearance. Sometimes bias is associated with a past experience but may simply be something “inherited” from our family or friends. Some biases are conscious, others unconscious. The bias can be directed towards those who are different, but may be evoked by persons of our same race, ethnicity, gender, body habitus, or social status, just to name a few characteristics that we automatically register. Everyone has bias, some of which may be rooted in facts, so the point is not that bias is wrong – we just need to be aware of our own bias and how it influences our actions.
In medicine, bias can greatly impact the care patients receive and is indeed one factor contributing to healthcare inequities. While you were reading the story about the homeless person, what did that person look like in your mind? Was this a man or a woman? Was their skin black or white? Did they speak English or another language? None of this information was provided, but what did you imagine? Would your perceptions about how they would be treated in a hospital setting change depending on the race, gender, or ethnicity of the homeless person? Would your level of compassion change?
Please take time to assess your biases. Insight into your mind may impact how you treat others. Although it may take a bit longer than stopping to take a photo -- knowing yourself will enable you to have greater impact in your community.
One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community ~