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A Margin of Error

College of Nursing assistant professor Karen Alexander, PhD, RN, talks candidly and bravely about her unconscious bias that crept into the care she had once provided as a nurse.

Stigma in health care may contribute to disparities in the treatment and care we give, particularly among marginalized populations who often feel they have no voice or are not heard. In fact, those who feel stigmatized may not seek or maintain important care into the future.

For Dr. Karen Alexander, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, this pandemic, and the pain of witnessing a divided nation suffering social and healthcare injustices, were a clarion call for her to reflect on her past biases as a nurse.

A recent memory of losing her first child shortly after childbirth brought back thoughts about the care Dr. Alexander had herself provided to a former patient – a woman who had tested positive for opioids, sexually transmitted infections and who had also lost her baby shortly after giving birth. Dr. Alexander had a strong support network to help her grieve her loss; her patient did not. Assumptions were made. What wasn’t done back then may have mattered.

In her personal account published in JAMA, Dr. Alexander compels all of us to show compassion, to err on the side of the good in all, to avoid marginalizing those who are “not like us” and to listen and just be open. We all experience loss, we all long to be loved and we all need to care for each other.

Read her story here.

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Patient Perspectives, Research & Innovation

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