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The Top 10 Mistakes Made By New Nurses

Written by Julia Tortorice
Nurse Mistakes

Photo by: Walt Stoneburner (Flickr)
Textbook knowledge is extremely valuable, but now you're going to learn from experience.

You've just graduated from nursing school. You've earned well-deserved congratulations, so congratulations, graduate! Nursing school taught you many, many things. At times, you most likely felt as if your brain simply would not store everything you were learning in nursing school. Nonetheless, you persisted, and you are now a nurse. It's time to enter into the rotation and do your job.

Although you have packed a ton of studying and clinical work into your life and have gained the skills to become a nurse, you are going to make mistakes. I say this not to discourage you but to encourage you. All of us make mistakes, and any error you make in your new nursing career has most likely been committed a million times before. We are nurses, but we are human; we goof just as everyone else does.

In fact, past mistakes have brought about the necessity for better protocols, so making a mistake isn't necessarily the end of the world because we learn from them. This being said, nursing mistakes can be dangerous and even deadly to our patients, so it is imperative that we all pay attention to everything we are doing while we are on duty at all times.

Also, keep in mind that there are steps that you can take to minimize the mistakes you make during your shift. You cannot avoid mistakes altogether, but you can learn from the mistakes many of us have already made. If you understand the common mistakes in nursing, you can take better care to avoid making them yourself. Here are ten mistakes commonly made by new (and some veteran) nurses.

Medication Errors

Medication errors are not just a nursing graduate mistake; they have also been attributed to nursing fatigue. Medication errors can be deadly, so prevent them by double, triple and quadruple-checking meds before administering them. Do not rush when administering meds. If you have questions, check the chart and ask the doctor.

Treatment Errors

Imagine your patient has just been released from surgery with a bevy of unlabeled tubes, some of which require draining. If you don't know which tube is which, you won't know which ones to drain. Make certain you understand what's expected of you. Don't be shy. Consult the charts and talk to the doctor to ensure you have a handle on all treatments for which you will be responsible.

Incomplete Information

This one will cause you some grief. If you are consulting a doctor to avoid the two mistakes I've just discussed, for example, make sure you have all patient information in front of you. Have the chart, a list of any questions you have, and any suggestions regarding patient care. Doctors do not have the time for a long discussion, so be prepared and be concise.

Giving Incomplete Reports

You learned how to give reports in nursing school, but guess what? It's not the same as reporting once you're on the floor. A complete -- and good -- nursing report is one that you have thought out and communicated effectively to your patient's doctors and other team members. You will get the hang of it through experience, so watch and learn from veteran nurses as they give their reports.

Falling Prey to Stress

Nursing is one of the most stressful jobs in the world, and you must learn to handle that stress so that you are prepared to face emergencies, and even death, on a daily basis. Find a healthy way to manage your stress immediately; otherwise, you will burn out long before you should. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and meditation are healthy ways to manage your nursing stress.

Mismanaging Time

Part of the stress in nursing is the lack of time you'll find you have to care properly for your patients. One way to combat additional stress on the job is to learn -- very quickly -- how to manage your time effectively. This skill is learned on the job, and it is okay to observe veteran nurses and ask for time-managing tips, especially when it comes to keeping up with your patient charts and paperwork.

Inability to Multitask and Prioritize

This is another rookie mistake that you must work out on the job. In your clinical rotations, you most likely only had two patients. Now, you're faced with upwards of six. You need to learn quickly how to prioritize each patient's care and multitask efficiently so you are meeting each patient's needs adequately. Seek some advice from your veteran colleagues and observe.

Embarrassing Yourself

You'll be rushing, so you might trip; you'll be stressed, so you might say the wrong thing; you'll be frustrated, so you might badmouth a doctor within earshot. Try to avoid all of these things, especially the last one! Keep in mind that a hospital is a professional setting. If you trip, you can laugh it off. If you badmouth a doctor, you might find yourself in a heap of trouble.

Calling a Patient the Wrong Name

This is one way you might embarrass yourself, and new nurses who are feeling a bit overwhelmed might find themselves at a loss for a patient’s name frequently. I am great with faces but not so good with names. Keep a steady eye on the patient/bed assignment board and charts to remember all of your patient's names. If you do call "Bob" "Bill," apologize and move on.

Handling Patient Death Inappropriately

This is a tough one. You cannot break down in front of your colleagues or a patient's family. No nurse, especially a new one, is ever adequately prepared to deal with death, yet it is part of our jobs. Ask your veteran nurses how they deal with death and enlist some professional help if you are finding yourself particularly derailed by patient death.