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Nursing Mistakes: Learning & Moving On

April 7th, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

Nursing Mistakes: Learning & Moving On

Mistakes: we’ve all made them, we’ve all found them. After all, we’re human, right? The extent of the errors vary widely from medication or treatment errors, errors in judgment to errors in misinterpreting an order, but they are errors nonetheless.

Although we know how to do things properly or we should ask for help if we don’t understand something, there are times when things go awry and before we know it, a mistake has been made.

Medication Errors

As students, who didn’t sweat bullets when it came to being afraid of making a medication error? The International Council of Nurses did a study that showed nurses play a key role in helping prevent medication errors by doctors and pharmacists. However, despite doing our checks, right drug, right patient, right time, right dose, right route –mistakes still can happen, usually because we are interrupted or distracted.

Oddly enough though, I found that most of these mistakes happened when it was quiet, not when we were busy. It seems that when we are busy, we know that mistakes can happen, so we’re ever vigilant to prevent them. But when it’s quiet, it’s easier to get distracted and easier to let your guard down.

The Forgotten Patient

Have you ever forgotten a patient? One time, on a medical unit I was on, the charge nurse forgot to assign one of the patients. To make things worse, this patient’s room was off to the side, not one that you would go by often unless you meant to go to her room. As a result, the patient slipped through the cracks and didn’t receive care for most of the shift. Luckily, that patient was independent enough not to need constant care, but we were all horrified that this could happen.

As nurses, we are busy with our own patient loads and our own worries, so it may not be obvious to us that someone isn’t receiving care. After that incident, every time I was charge nurse, I was fanatical about being sure every patient was accounted for every shift.

Procedure Errors

Procedure errors happen. We’ve all heard horror stories of the wrong limb being targeted for amputation, but it’s also smaller things that can happen. I remember once taking over a patient with an NG tube to suction. But, when I went to make my nursing assessment, there was nothing happening. The reason? The suction machine wasn’t plugged in; the cord was still coiled around the holder. No wonder the poor soul was feeling so nauseated.

The next day, I quietly told the relatively new nurse about her error – she had transferred the patient from one room to another and forgotten to plug the machine in – but she vehemently denied forgetting. Making a mistake is upsetting, but denying it doesn’t change the fact that it happened. I have to admit, I never trusted her again.

Mistakes shouldn’t happen. Unfortunately, mistakes are made. The best we can do is learn from the errors and make every effort not to repeat them.

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Posted in On-the-Job Fears

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5 Responses to " Nursing Mistakes: Learning & Moving On"

Cori Van Dusen says:
April 07, 2010 at 1:47:35 pm

I found this post really reassuring. I'm about to start Nursing School in the next month and eventually want to be a NICU nurse, so this kind of advice is super helpful. Sounds like it's all about taking accountability for your actions and doing the best you can!

Marijke Durning says:
April 07, 2010 at 2:05:27 pm

Thanks for your comment Cori. It would be nice if we would never make mistakes and I have to tell you, it's the world's worst feeling when you realize that you've made one. The thing is, we need to always be aware of the potential and make sure we work in such a way that we limit the possibility. Good luck in reaching your goal.

Cori Van Dusen says:
April 12, 2010 at 9:09:23 am

Thanks Marijke. I am looking forward to the start of my program in May. While I know it will be intense, I welcome the challenge.

January Sharlin says:
August 19, 2010 at 5:37:36 am

A licensed practical nurse or LPN is a nurse that underwent training to be able to do medical procedures supervised by a registered nurse or a doctor

Carla says:
February 14, 2011 at 7:08:50 pm

I'm a nursing student and I have made mistakes. 2 that I can count and you never forget them. I am definitely having a hard time moving on too but it's something I have to do. My most recent was working with an 18 month old with RSV. In the hospital I do clincal rounds in we do rectal temps for kids 2 years and under. I was so nervous to be doing an assessment on my own cause I've never worked with kids before. Especially one who is screaming and crying. I had to take a rectal temp and during my process to get a cover slip I must have missed or it didn't click onto the thermometer. I didn't realize this had happened until after I took the temperature and went to throw the "slip cover" away when at that moment, I realized it had never been on. I felt so guilty, but mistakes do happen and although I am going to be a nurse it's so important for the patients to know about their care. We're all human, and sometimes it's not fun when you do something wrong, but sometimes it happens....

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