Don’t let our desire to be respected get in the way of our oaths

We all have prejudices. We have racial prejudices. Religious prejudices. Gender prejudices. Occupational prejudices. Age prejudices. Weight prejudices. Height prejudices. We prejudge based on hair style. Language. Accent. Clothing. Shoes. Attractiveness. Tattoos. Names. Jewelry. Family. Hobbies. Cars. Schools. Type of home. Music. Where a person lives. What type of work a person does. What a person reads. Talents. Disabilities. Physique. Medical history. Injuries. Opinions or assessments by others.

No one is immune to prejudice. We have evolved to formulate split decisions. Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Blink, focuses on the quickness of our decisions, on our prejudices, and on some ways to work around the prejudices. Our hard-wired tendency to prejudge is unavoidable, so we need to recognize it in order for it not to control us.

We need to get beyond our first thought and continue thinking. We need to figure out where the first reaction came from and check ourselves. We need to listen and to keep listening. We need to constantly reassess. Especially when we are in positions of power.

Police officers are in positions of power. Doctors and nurses are in positions of power. The prejudices of all of us have the potential to cost a person his or her life.

Defend and protect. First do no harm. We take these oaths and are bound to do what we can to uphold them. But sometimes we need to fight ourselves to do so.

A prejudice may cause a police officer to see a threat when there in actuality is no danger. A prejudice may cause a doctor to dismiss cries of pain as histrionics. A prejudice may cause a nurse to dismiss a family member’s report of a problem as whining. And once any one of us makes this initial presumption, we can kill someone if we don’t catch ourselves.

Those of us with people’s lives in our hands cannot stop at that first impression, Yes, a first reaction may very well be correct, but we must be diligent in our thought processes so that we don’t stop with that first thought. We cannot be too proud or stubborn to admit when our first thought is wrong. We have to keep listening.

When someone says “I’m in pain,” we need to listen. When someone says “I can’t breathe,” we need to listen. Maybe the person at first glance appears to be able to breathe, or not to be in so much pain, but we cannot risk ignoring those statements. Ever.

We cannot let our our desire to be respected get in the way of our oaths. We cannot let our drive to be seen as the one in-the-right to get in the way of true righteousness. We need to be bigger than that.

We need to remember that to save a life is to save the world, even if it means we might look like we lost or have to admit that we were wrong. We’ll win in the long run when we maintain our oaths.

First do no harm. Serve and protect. Command respect by showing it. Always remember that because we are human, we must go beyond the first thought. We owe it to humanity.

Abigail Schildcrout is founder, Practical Medical Insights, and blogs at DocThoughts.

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