Ageism in American healthcare

All minorities in healthcare

I have commented about ageism in healthcare before. Like many of the other “isms”, ageism is only worth mentioning because ultimately it affects how we all receive care. And like any systemic problems it often is masked as being “just the way things are”.

As many of you know, I am a registered nurse. I also happen to be male (which has produced all sorts of interesting situations by itself). Am also within spitting distance of the traditional retirement age in this country–age 65.

Recently I decided that after a rather long hiatus I wanted to “go back” to home health nursing. For those of you unfamiliar with this specialty in nursing, home health nursing tends to be light on technical—at least high tech–skill requirements and rather heavy on people skills. That means that know how to communicate with patients, family, other clinicians, and caregivers, as well as all those in the patient’s immediate environment, is far more important that know how to do advanced treatments. If advanced treatments are needed (complex wound care or drug administration), it is still usually done in a hospital or clinic.

Home health is an area where gender and age should matter least in good patient care. However, after working (briefly) in the field and recently looking for a new employment situation (my old home health agency decided to shut its doors) I see that ageism, and to lesser extent sexism, is still alive and well in the American healthcare environment.

Not that I’m complaining. Nursing generally (and home health in particular) have been very good to me. The practices, generally and in particular, have enabled to make a decent living and to make a difference in patient’s lives. What I’m puzzled about is this:

In a field where the absence of judgment is essential to good outcomes, why is healthcare still so “judgy”. Doctors are supposed to look and behave like this (many I know do not) and nurses are supposed to look and behave like this (more and more this NOT the case).

I would like to think that things are changing, but as long as there are pockets of resistance–reinforcement of the status quo around roles and clinical professionals–I feel a need for all of us to continue to speak out. Of course, like many social ills, the first step to doing something is self-awareness.

Take a couple of minutes, take a look around you. See what there is that you do to eliminate the shadows in your own thinking. When you think of a nurse, what do you think of? What about a new grad nurse versus an advanced practice nurse? Have medical professionals that have gone the medical school route made any greater strides in overcoming gender-typing or age-typing?

Let me know your thoughts!

About Gerry Wieder

Gerry is a former Registered Nurse, currently living in the Seattle area of the United States.
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