Career advice

How to challenge the misguided assumptions we all make

You cannot take back an insensitive comment or judgement, but you can minimise the risk of it happening

You cannot take back an insensitive comment or judgement, but you can minimise the risk of it happening


Picture: iStock

The saying ‘every day’s a school day’ is often used in jest, but there is plenty of wisdom in it. 

Most seasoned nurses will know that learning never stops, regardless of where you are in your nursing career. But this doesn’t always have to mean increasing your clinical knowledge, with learning opportunities also available outside the work environment. 

I learned this lesson quite unexpectedly recently when I signed my dog, Jay, up for an agility class. 

When we went along for the first session, I was expecting a fun evening watching him learn new skills and interact with other dogs, which he did. 

Voicing assumptions

I was also hoping for a supportive learning environment, so didn’t expect to be confronted by someone voicing assumptions based solely on appearance. Even more shockingly, that person was me. 

Let me explain. As I was complimenting an owner on her dog’s impeccable obedience, she informed me that hers was an assistance dog. I then said, without thinking, ‘Oh, but she’s also your pet?’. 

RELATED: The perils of snap judgements

I realised what I had done as soon as the words left my mouth. Subconsciously, I had decided that this lady ‘didn’t look disabled’ so I had jumped to the conclusion that she couldn’t possibly have an assistance dog. 

I felt mortified and wanted the ground to swallow me up. Despite offering a heartfelt apology, I felt ashamed of myself – what happened to treating people as individuals and reserving judgements? 

But this wasn’t about me and how I felt. Although the lady didn’t ‘appear’ to be offended, will I ever really know? Despite having every right to feel hurt and angry, she may well be skilled at masking the impact that such thoughtless words can have. 

Unfortunately, I doubt I was the first person to offer such flippant comments and it's likely I won’t be the last.  

Developing self-awareness 

You can probably sense that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on this encounter. Nothing can take back my insensitive comments, but continuously beating myself up is not productive.

The more honest approach is to accept that there are layers of assumptions within all of us, some of which are products of our culture and upbringing. 

A better way to focus my energy would be to do what I can to minimise the risk of something like this happening again. 

I say ‘minimise’ deliberately; a few weeks ago, I would have sworn I wouldn’t judge someone like that. Now, I can see that things aren’t so simple. The more honest approach is to accept that there are layers of assumptions within all of us, some of which are products of our culture and upbringing. 

Although we cannot change our histories, we can learn to recognise and actively change how we deal with misguided beliefs we are holding onto. This is especially important in nursing, where you are caring for people from all walks of life and with a variety of illnesses and disabilities. 

RELATED: Avoid assumptions about capacity in people with learning disabilities

There is no magic wand that offers increased self-awareness. This is an ongoing process, but you must be open to learning about yourself and be mindful of situations where your personal beliefs or judgements could affect your ability to care for or assess someone’s well-being objectively. Continuously reflecting on your practice forms a good basis for developing greater levels of self-awareness.

If you do find yourself making judgements, take heed from my experience. Direct your energy into discovering what you have learned about yourself and how you could do things differently next time. 


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs