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My coworker hid a medication error! Now what?

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Mistakes happen. We avoid them at all costs, but they do. The question is, how do you handle them?

Let’s explore one of the more common – and dangerous – errors that can happen on your shift.

You enter a room to find the syringe of a medication that was supposed to have been administered over two hours completely empty, and it’s only been 15 minutes. Your coworker walks in behind you with eyes wide open, realizing the mistake she made, and makes you promise to keep quiet. What do you do?

First, take your gaze away from the frazzled coworker and make sure the patient is still alive. Sounds funny, but in all seriousness, in the heat of the situation you may be drawn to comfort your friend instead of immediately attending to the patient.

As some medication errors can be extremely harmful to the patient, it’s your responsibility to the patient, the floor, the hospital and your license to focus on the patient so he can be treated as quickly as possible.

Now, if that patient is completely stable with no signs of ill effects from the medication slip-up, pull your fellow nurse aside and explain that she must still inform your supervisor of this error. Tell her that yes, everybody makes mistakes and the patient is fine. But you – and your coworker – cannot walk away from this situation with a “Phew! Lesson learned! No harm, no foul!” Because…unbeknownst to either of you right now…there may be harm.

If something down the road goes awry with the patient, all facts need to be out on the table. This nurse MUST confess the error. Tell your coworker that not only will she put her own license in jeopardy for not telling, but yours will be jeopardized, too. By knowing and not telling, you become an accomplice.

Honesty is the best policy. If you’re still uncomfortable with how the situation was handled, use your management for advice.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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