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When you make a mistake on your FIRST day—how to recover

Shutterstock | Tyler Olson
Shutterstock | Tyler Olson

Here’s a news flash: Nurses are human.

Whether you like to admit it or not, nurses make mistakes just like every other human being on earth. The difference between us and most other human beings is that when we make a mistake as a nurse (while on duty), it usually affects a human life. And, in most cases, in a negative way. Dare I type this, but our mistakes can cost lives given certain circumstances.

Now that we have your attention, here’s another news flash: You will not only make a mistake, but you’re probably going to make more than one. And most of these possible mistakes will be made when stress levels are at their highest, when you are the least comfortable in your skin and are smack dab in unfamiliar territory. Does this sound like your first day?

Yep. We’ve all been there. It’s very rare that you can get through your first day without making a mistake. So you can breathe easy knowing you’re not alone.

But let’s get something straight. Making a mistake is not something you should expect. You should make every effort to prevent any type of mistake. That’s always the goal. What we’re pointing out is that the odds are you’ll probably make one on that FIRST day.

But don’t fret. All is not lost.

If, on your first day, you make a mistake, here are three things you can do immediately to recover:

  1. Take a breath and check your patient(s). Was anyone harmed? Is anyone in danger of being harmed? If so, bring it to someone’s attention now and take corrective action. Do not delay. Once you’ve verified that there is no presence of harm, take another breath.
  2. Take ownership. Now that you’ve ensured the safety of your patient(s), it’s time to admit fault. Whatever you do, don’t hide your mistake. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed. Be assertive and be honest. It’s called a mistake for a reason. Utilize your support system that is already set up at your place of employment.
  3. Take action. Remember, it’s a mistake the first time you do it. The second time you do it, it becomes a habit, or at the very least, a trend. Innocence can easily progress into carelessness if you don’t learn from your mistake. Learn from it and take action to prevent it from ever happening again. This goes for mistakes that are completely out of your control. Take corrective action, period.

Remember, the worst mistake a nurse ever made was the mistake they didn’t learn from.

Interested in learning more tips? Check out our Nurse’s Survival Guide!

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