Nursing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

A Nursing Nightmare

What’s the one thing you fear most as a nurse? That’s right: making a mistake. Especially a mistake that could harm a patient- that is the absolute worst!

As a nurse, you have another human being’s life in your hands. You show up to work, day in and day out, to provide the best care that you can for your patient.

And, also as a human being, there is that chance that you will do something wrong.

None of us want to. We all try to avoid it. And then- BAM!

We did it.

We made a mistake and we feel terrible about it.

Well, I like other nurses do not want you to get to that point. In fact, there are some things that you can do in order to avoid making an error.

Here are 3 Ways to Avoid Making a Mistake in Nursing.

1. Slow Down.

Yes, this sounds counterproductive. You’re a busy nurse and you have TONS to do during the work day.

You’re probably reading this thinking, “Yeah right, Elizabeth. Slow down. What planet do you live on? If I slow down I not only won’t get to everything I need to do- but then I will have to stay at work even later than I already am!!”

There is a reason why the operating room areas perform procedural time out.

Research has shown that the initiation of a time out does not impact work flow while making things safer for patients. So, it does not slow things down and less mistakes are made.

Here’s a practical way to think about it.

If you rush along during the work day, how likely are you to miss something? And let’s just say that you do overlook a step or forget to chart something in the electronic record. Then what happens?

You actually have to go back- sometimes finding the item that you missed in the first place- and correct what was overlooked. That process in and of itself is actually adding more time and work to your day.

Rushing helps in the short term, but not long term. You may feel that you are saving time by rushing through work, however it actually can slow you down.

If you take your time throughout the day, you will be less likely to have to go back and find something at the end of your shift.

2. Write it Down.

Yes, as a nurse, you likely already use some sort of checklist. And I would like to encourage you to take this a step further.

Get a small notebook. Bring it to work on each shift.

As you go through your day, write it down. I mean everything and anything. Put a date at the top of the page- so that you can refer back to it, if need be.

If the lab calls, write it down. If you talk to the physician about something, write that down. As you attend a committee meeting, precept a new nurse, or have an evaluation session with your supervisor- write notes down about all of these things.

Our brains cannot possibly remember everything. We are so overloaded with information these days that it is amazing we can recall anything at all!

Instead of guessing or trying to remember something- when you have it written down it will be easier to recall. This way you decrease your chances of making a nursing mistake.

3. Just Breathe.

Remember above when I said that you were a human being? Well, with that humanness comes a chance that you may make a mistake one day as a nurse.

In fact, it is almost inevitable.

So, first things first. Quit trying to play superhero. In fact, stop focusing on the error you “may” make at all.

Did you know that when you pay attention to something you actually give it more power? What that means is when you focus on the fear of making an error you actually attract a mistake energetically. So, by worrying about making a mistake you increase your chances of actually making one!

Mistakes may happen. Even the “best” nurse that you can think of right now may have slipped up one time.

It is OK!

And how to cope with, stop making, or avoid those mistakes altogether?

You need to breathe.

In my book, Stop Nurse Burnout, I teach the reader about the squeegee breath. This is a special type of breath that does not add more time to your day.

In essence, you pause. Breathe in. At the top of the inhale, just pause for a moment. And then, smile and exhale, releasing tension and worry.

What’s worked for you? How have you avoided making a mistake? Be sure to Tweet me @ElizabethScala and let me know what you think! Thanks for reading; enjoy the day.






Elizabeth Scala

Keynote speaker and bestselling author, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week ‘Art of Nursing’ program, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver.Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and a playful pit bull.