Another excellent question from the comments section:
Nurse Philosopher sent this one in (which I tried to find after I'd hit "publish comment", but now cannot; thank heavens I saved the message):
What can you tell me about prejudice and lack of compassion among staff members? At Little Ol' County General we have staffers renowned for their competence, steadiness under fire, and breadth of knowledge. They'll call you sweetie and God Bless you all day long.
Yet these same members have been observed expressing a good deal of judgmentality about patients who are 1)LGBT, 2)of an unusual faith (i.e., not mainline Christian), who have 3)lifestyle-related diagnoses (alcoholism, HIV,) anyone with 4)a psych history, 5) are non-native speakers of English, OR 6)whose family members are assertive in their advocacy for the patient.
Speaking for myself, I enjoy the "different" patients & families. I find a little compassion and support goes a long way in many cases. I do spend more time listening to patient stories than most of my colleagues, because I enjoy them. I also find that informing & encouraging the strongest family member helps the patient and the family in general. It lowers their anxiety levels, which is all to the good.
So, why do so many of my fellow nurses accept a negative attitude? Why does it seem ok to them to denigrate and dismiss patients' genuine concerns because the pt has one or more of the Big Bad Five elements above? Is there anything I can do to encourage a more positive attitude toward disliked classes of patients?
I've seen these atittudes too, and toward the same groups of patients. I've also *had* these attitudes on bad days.
Sometimes we have good reasons for dreading an encounter with a particular patient, especially if that person's been a Hospital Hobbyist for years and we know them. Most of the time, though, our prejudices against certain patients or people with particular diagnoses are just that: prejudices. They're unfounded and unfair.
Seems to me that we're dealing with two different issues here: one is bigotry and the other is an unwillingness to deal with "difficult" patients or families.
Bigotry you can't do jack about unless you're willing to say, over and over, "It's not always like that, you know." If someone says something offensive and you feel comfortable calling them out, then do so. You can do that in a way that's not rude or combative; just saying, "I find that remark really offensive" is enough in most cases. The best you can hope for is to shut people up while they're around you. I guess if you're really feeling tough one day, you could ask (in response to a bigoted statement), "Why do you say that?" or "Why do you feel that way?" and keep probing until the other person gets uncomfortable.
Difficult patients/family members is a different story. Most of the time, people are hard to work with or demanding because they're frightened, or they're trying to keep some sort of control over a situation that's spun totally out of hand. Nurses tend to dread them because they're control freaks (and so are we), or because they question everything (just like we do).
Those are folks I actually really enjoy working with. It's sort of a challenge, but you can build a respectful relationship in three ways: by being open and accessible, by setting boundaries, and by answering questions. *Not* giving the family short shrift over their concerns is the place to start. It's also one of the easier ways to model better behavior and foster better attitudes among coworkers.
Honestly, I don't know that you're going to be able to change deep-seated attitudes. I don't know that you'll be able to stop venting that's bigoted or otherwise short-sighted. Acting the way you'd like your coworkers to act and refusing to participate in the gay- or non-English-speaking- or Zoroastrian-bashing might be all you can do.
Suggestions, anybody? Nurse Philosopher has knocked upon the noggin something we all have to handle, every day.