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Inspiration for this editorial came from a Facebook post. A friend, who happens to be a healthcare provider, was relaxing on a beach during an extended airport layover. To his amusement (and complete surprise), a stranger assumed he was "a beggar" when he approached her and said, "Excuse me, ma'am[horizontal ellipsis]" She told him that she didn't have any money before realizing that all he wanted was for her to take his picture. Fortunately, both ended the awkward encounter laughing at her misperception.
This anecdote started me thinking about the assumptions, stories, and perhaps even major motion pictures that we can create about people and situations when we respond to incomplete information-and how off-base they can be. Our minds fill in the gaps by drawing from personal life experiences, culture, beliefs, biases, and perceptions. But higher-level critical thinking should always prevail and remind us that further validation is necessary to separate fact from fiction. Short of that, initial impressions can take on a fanciful life of their own and can even run amuck.
In a purely social setting, incorrect assumptions can produce some embarrassing gaffes, misunderstandings, or even lost opportunities for a friendship or relationship. It's much the same at work. We all know individuals who jump to conclusions after hearing just an info byte, or who formulate rigid opinions about people because of the way they look, talk, or behave-and then confidently repeat those impressions as if they were indeed valid.
The tendency to jump to conclusions can create safety risks when patients become story subjects. Consider patients with uncontrolled diabetes who are dubbed "noncompliant" by the healthcare team. How many would gladly take insulin if they could, but can't afford it? Did we ask the right questions in our assessment? Or, how about the patient with chronic pain labeled a "drug seeker" who actually has a serious undiagnosed health problem? Labels should always raise a red flag about the need to uncover the story behind the story.
So, what's the best advice? Strive to keep an open mind and deliberately engage in the power of objective inquiry. Although it may not always be possible to sort out fact from fiction, we can certainly make the conscious choice not to add to the drama or perpetuate the myths.
Until next time-
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM
Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2012 Vice President: Emergency & Trauma Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.
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