Have you ever witnessed a hospital staff member being harassed by a distraught patient hurling hateful slurs? Do you remain silent when you see statements made to some of your colleagues that you know are culturally insensitive? Have you observed a patient refuse treatment from a practitioner of color, demanding to see a white doctor? Or have you overheard someone say, “Your English is so good!”, upon learning their physician is from another country?

Each of these scenarios is problematic in its own way. More and more frequently, healthcare professionals are encountering challenging moral and ethical situations in the workplace that relate to diversity in the workplace. Whether from patients, colleagues, administrators or vendors, it is simply not enough to have anti-harassment and nondiscrimination policies in place. People must have the courage and foresight to act upon them. Diversity training and a solid plan can help. If discrimination, gender bias, sexual harassment, or other types of recurring actions detrimental to the workplace rear their ugly heads from time to time, then it’s time to carve a path toward cultural change. It’s time to move beyond the tutorials and policy reviews: provide your organization’s membership with the practical tools necessary to have a voice, to feel included, to feel valued, and to have the courage to say so.

Bystander Intervention Strategies

Several proven methodologies may assist an individual in a discriminatory or bias situation they witness or uncover. In the healthcare setting, Advis advises focusing on five important strategies:

  1. Interruption & Distraction;
  2. Immediate Intervention;
  3. Delegation;
  4. Delay & Follow-Up; and
  5. Documentation.

Interruption & Distraction

Distraction Due to sensitivities inherent to the healthcare facility environment and the presence of ailing patients, the distraction strategy is of real value. Simply interrupt the situation, ignoring the harasser, and engage directly with the targeted individual about something completely unrelated to the harassment witnessed. Any pretense can be used to interrupt and/or deflect negative actions. Take the first example of a patient using racial slurs against their nurse. To change the subject, you might ask the nurse for test results from another patient, or ask for the time, or express some other random thought that will hopefully interrupt or, better still, stop the harassment. The distraction strategy is extremely effective in many situations. It always deflects and deflates the harassment.

Immediate Intervention

This strategy can be risky, so caution is advised. Security and other policies may be necessary as well, but sometimes immediate intervention is all that’s needed when witnessing harassment. Quickly assess your surroundings. Make certain you can ensure the situation’s safety, because the harasser, once confronted, may turn on you. The harasser may state homophobic or culturally hateful language toward another person. You directly intervene by stating: “That’s inappropriate. It’s not ok. Stop it now”. What’s important is that you keep your interruption of the harasser short and to the point. Always refrain from debating the harasser. Knocking the harasser off stride is your goal.


Again, in most healthcare venues security personnel and/or security procedures are in place to help staff battle harassment issues. Sometimes a situation calls for asking for assistance from a leader, manager, security personnel or other like person, especially if you already tried a distraction strategy and it proved insufficient to resolve the matter at hand.

Delay & Follow-Up

Sometimes you witness harassment situations in passing, or they happen so quickly that it’s all over before you can jump in and apply one of the proven strategies. In this case, it is always good practice to follow up with the person who suffered the harassment and ask them if they are ok. Acknowledge that the incident took place. Reassure the victim that it was not ok. You can off er to accompany them to make a report. Always document the incident while its fresh.


Most healthcare service venues have procedures and reporting methodologies for such incidents in place. Whether your healthcare facility has an organized reporting mechanism or not, it is important to document any and all incidents you witness so that leadership may address these issues in a timely manner.


Diversity Training and Policies of Inclusion are critical to the modern workplace. The healthcare environment is one of the most social workplaces to be found anywhere. Maintaining a healthy work environment based upon mutual respect and excellence is critical to the modern successful workplace. Advis specializes in assessing existing policy and in developing and implementing supplementary policies to assure that a diverse, inclusive, and thriving workplace is in place at your organization. Please be aware that every institution has its own approach to diversity and inclusion and bystander involvement. Please always follow the direction from your organization. To inquire about diversity training, policy review, or your workplace culture, contact Advis at 708.478.7030, and one of our experienced diversity trainers will be happy to assist you.