Discussion Series on Unconscious Bias Kicks Off

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Though Cynthia Barginere, DNP, RN, FACHE, grew up poor in the South, the lessons she learned helped bring a definite richness to a recent discussion about racial bias. 

Barginere, vice president of clinical nursing and chief nursing officer at Rush University Medical Center, discussed her upbringing in Alabama and how it shaped her as she opened a series of talks at Rush University on Feb. 5 called “Unconscious Bias in Our Lives: A Dialogue About Race, Gender and the Rush Climate.”

“My parents taught me — even when you do try to do the right thing and be inclusive and be open-minded, not everyone is going to see it that way and you won’t always be perceived that way,” said Barginere, an African-American in the predominantly white field of nursing. “You just have to have the resilience to not take it personally and not let it stop you from moving forward. Not everyone is going to look like you and think like you, but you can make the choice to make the situation work out for the greater good.”

The series was developed by students and faculty from all four Rush University colleges in response to recent racially charged events that have sparked national protest and debate — particularly those involving the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in New York and Ferguson, Missouri. On Dec. 10, students from more than 80 health care colleges across the U.S., including Rush University, participated in a “die in” to protest racism and police brutality.

“I was very impressed and very proud that the students decided to make a conscious statement and not just a personal statement,” Barginere said. “If you want people to know what you think, you have to say it. One thing about this country that’s great is you have the opportunity to do that. Even if people disagree, people have to respect it.”

Many students at Rush approved of the protest, but some wondered why people had participated.

“It was those emotions that triggered us to start this dialog series,” said Marquina Watts, a student in Rush University’s College of Nursing.  “We want to freely discuss the critical issues concerning race at Rush and Chicago in general. And we want to discuss freely as health care professionals how important the equality issue is.”

The hope is that discussion will help challenge unconscious biases that could potentially affect patient care.

“The racial biases in health care are probably some of the scariest because physicians and nurses have such influence on people’s health and their lives,” Barginere said. “If I’m a patient and you choose not to listen to me because you come to the table with bias due to who I am or how I act, then that may impact my life or my family’s life. So it’s important to speak up, speak freely and have constructive dialogue.”

The next event in the series is expected to be held in the spring.