We all strive for perfection, but nurses are humans and make mistakes from time to time. So, if you’ve ever made a mistake on the job, just know you’re not alone.
The 8 Most Common Nursing Mistakes
The most common nursing mistakes tend to fall into one of eight categories.
Mistake #1: Causing Preventable Infections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 25 U.S. hospital patients contracts at least one healthcare-associated infection on any given day. Nurses play a key role in increasing or decreasing their patients’ risk of this happening. For example, you could cause a preventable infection if you don't clean your hands regularly during your shift or follow an aseptic technique to prevent the spread of harmful organisms.
Mistake #2: Documenting Things Incorrectly
If you don’t record all of your patients’ information (or if you record that information incorrectly), you could inadvertently prevent them from receiving the care they need. Types of documentation errors include not recording (or recording inaccurate details about):
- Patient histories
- Medications given or stopped
- Your actions
- Instructions for care going forward
Mistake #3: Making Medication Errors
Nursing errors can be made when nurses administer the wrong dose of a medication or inadvertently give a patient someone else's prescription. These medication errors can delay a patient's return to health, make them ill, or—in some cases—even lead to death.
Mistake #4: Not Following Risk Management Procedures
All healthcare workplaces typically have risk management procedures in place. These guidelines help you identify risks in your environment and minimize the chance of mishaps occurring. They also outline the steps to take when an incident occurs. If you don’t follow this protocol, you may be more likely to make nursing mistakes.
Mistake #5: Failing To Prevent Patient Falls
Falls can happen if you don't regularly check in on your patients, fail to accompany those who need mobility assistance, or even forget to put items they need close by. Additionally, if you seem too busy or unapproachable, your patients may try to do too much in your absence.
Mistake #6: Struggling With Multitasking
As a nurse, you’re expected to handle multiple patients and tasks simultaneously. Failing to do so could end up with you inadvertently skipping some vital tasks, such as documenting when a patient took a medication so the rest of your team knows not to administer it. If you find yourself struggling with this, the easiest thing you can do is ask your colleagues or superiors for help. Have them share their tips for managing tricky workloads, or ask them for help in figuring out which tasks should be prioritized over others. If your workload proves to be too overwhelming, consider talking to your manager about shifting some things off your plate.
Mistake #7: Calling a Patient by the Wrong Name
This type of nursing error is more embarrassing than dangerous. Although it’s a particularly common one among new nurses, even the most seasoned professional can find herself blanking on a patient’s name from time to time. So, if it does happen, all you can do is apologize and keep going. The next time you find yourself at a loss for a patient’s name, consider sneaking a peek at their chart before you address them.
Mistake #8: Not Listening to Your Body
With long shifts and irregular schedules, nurses often become tired and stressed, which can increase their risk of making mistakes and even burning out. Burnout symptoms include:
- Emotional exhaustion: Feeling drained, tired, low, and overwhelmed.
- Alienation from work: Being cynical and disengaged from your work; feeling resentful and frustrated by your job and/or by your colleagues; and even finding it hard to empathize for your patients.
- Reduced performance: Finding it hard to concentrate or follow through on tasks, making more errors, and feeling listless.
4 Steps to Consider Taking If You Make a Mistake
Some mistakes are more significant than others, but few are so large that you can't find ways to fix them. We found some great advice from Elite Healthcare, as well as from real-life nurses who shared on-the-job mistakes they'd made in a Florence Health article, and put together a list of some constructive and proactive steps you can take if you've made a mistake yourself.
1. Acknowledge your mistake and report it.
Don't try to cover up your error or shift the blame from your shoulders. Instead, take accountability for your actions and make sure to follow any risk management protocols your facility has put in place to handle such incidents.
2. Be proactive about fixing the mistake.
If you make a mistake, try not to get discouraged and give up. Many mistakes are fixable, so check in with your supervisor or manager to see if there’s anything you can do to help out. When possible, try to be part of the solution to the problem.
3. Understand what led to the mistake.
There’s no doubt that your nursing mistake may have had dire effects, and it can feel unbearably difficult to focus on anything else. Once you’ve grappled with these feelings, you will want to find out what you could’ve done differently. No matter how drastic the effects of your mistake, use this opportunity to shift your focus toward improving your nursing skills and helping prevent your peers from making the same kind of mistake.
4. Don't ignore how you’re feeling.
Never bury your feelings. No matter how slight or severe the mistake, give yourself permission to feel the anger and remorse that may follow. Journal about it. Discuss it with others. Remember: You are only human. Process your emotions in a healthy way so you can move on positively. And if you need professional help, get it.
Originally published by Lauren Katulka on July 16, 2018.
Updated by Paul Dughi on June 18, 2021.