Bias in Cancer Care: Know Better, Do Better

April 13, 2021
Brielle Benyon

An Arkansas law may lay the groundwork for unfair care in certain populations, but there are always nurses and other clinicians ready to advocate for all of their patients.

While policies exist to safeguard vulnerable populations, others may unfortunately lead to inequity and prejudice in care. In March, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed legislation allowing clinicians to refuse non-emergency treatment to patients on the grounds of religious or moral objections.

Civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights campaign say that this law – which will go into effect in the summer – can have major negative impacts on the care of LGBTQ patients.

But regardless of the policies in place, there are always clinicians nationwide who are willing to advocate for their patients and put any potential biases aside.

“Disparities and bias go hand in hand, whether (it be) racial, socioeconomic, gender, or sexual orientation,” said Emily Beard, RN, OCN, CBCN, program coordinator of breast cancer at Northside Cancer Institute in Atlanta. “It is the ethical duty of the health care provider to support our patients. Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better, you do better.’”

Oncology Nursing News recently published the following content on the care of minority/vulnerable populations.

Beard also mentioned that there are excellent resources published by the Oncology Nursing Society and American Cancer Society that she has turned to when dealing with a transgender patient who was concerned with sexual function on cancer treatment.

“There is much that I don’t know, even as a nurse with 17 years of experience,” Beard said. “I learn so much from my patients – in those moments, they make me a better nurse and a better person.”

Ultimately, Beard says that all health care providers should seek out anti-bias training, even if – and especially if – their places of employment do not offer it.

“We all bring our experiences with us, and our unconscious communication, words, and body language can harm people without our knowing it. Our patients and communities desire nothing less of us than our full showing up, minds and hearts open and engaged, and willing to be advocates for them.”