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Reduce Stigmatizing Language

Core Principles

Language changes over time and across different contexts, and we need to continually re-evaluate the words we choose. Through the Our Words Matter training, we strive to improve the language we use to decrease stigma and mitigate the transmission of bias. We envision a future in which all clinical communication is respectful, patient-centered and empowering.

Consider these core principles to reduce stigmatizing language:

  1. Use person-first language 
    For example: a person with diabetes, not a “diabetic”
  2. Avoid stereotypes and generalizations
    For example: “non-compliant,” “poor historian”
  3. Assign blame to the system, not the individual
    For example: “pt chooses” rather than “refuses”
  4. Eliminate pejorative terms
    For example: convict, prostitute, alien
  5. Think critically and be intentional about using social identifiers
    For example: race, SES and language don't belong in the one-liner
  6. State the facts – avoid interpretations
    For example:  "patient alleges/claims 10/10 pain"
  7. Use inclusive language
    For example: "pt uses a wheelchair" rather than "wheelchair-bound"
  8. Use the active voice
    For example: “I prescribed antibiotics”
  9. Don’t weaponize quotes
    For example: patient is having "horrible" pain

When in doubt, ask yourself: If I were the patient reading/hearing this, how would I feel?

Words Matter Examples


Further Reading