5 embarrassing new nurse mistakes


Image: iStockphoto | Thinkstock

Regrets, I’ve had a few…but then again, too few to…wait, what?

Nurses make mistakes. Lots of them. Most of the time we catch ’em before they become a big deal. Maybe you’ve pulled a medicine at the wrong time or called a patient by the wrong name, or done something vaguely harebrained that won’t necessarily cause harm, but will cause embarrassment.

New nurses make the same mistakes as other nurses, which can be both a comfort and a source of fear. Herewith, Auntie Jo’s list of mistakes you’re gonna make sometime, and how you can learn from them and recover from them.

1. Making a medication error
This is the biggun. Every nurse now in practice has made at least one, usually without knowing it. My first came early in practice, when I double-dosed a patient with metoprolol. Thankfully, the patient wasn’t harmed—he was tense enough about being in the hospital that all I had to do was monitor him closely and be alert for hypotension. Still, it taught me that triple- and quadruple-checking medications—especially when you’re in a hurry—is hugely important.

2. Omitting some sort of treatment or doing it to the wrong part of the body
There is no worse order than “apply to affected area TID.” If you’re not aware of what the affected area is, you’ll be left staring at the patient’s apparently intact skin, wondering what to do with that little tube of ointment. Preventing an error requires research into the chart and maybe asking the doc what the heck is going on.

Or…let’s say you’re confronted with a myriad of tubes coming out of somebody’s abdomen, unlabeled, and apparently draining several things within the same three square inches. Which one do you flush? How do you tell? Again, this usually requires either searching the chart for clues or (easier) asking the doc which tube is which, and labeling them yourself. You’d be amazed at how many surgeons turn patients over to the post-op team without doing a basic thing such as labeling their drains.

3. Calling a patient by the wrong name
To us, it’s nothing more than an embarrassing slip. To the patient, it’s a huge deal: What else has this nurse confused on me? The only thing to do is apologize—profusely—and continue on with such attention to detail that the patient is reassured.

4. Calling a doc without all the necessary information on hand
This is something you learn early on, especially if you start on the night shift. Never call a physician without the chart in front of you and every single pertinent piece of information about your patient on the tip of your tongue. Especially don’t call the doc at 3 a.m. if you’re not already primed with information and suggestions. Believe me when I tell you that it took me several times, not just once, to learn this.

5. Making an utter, incomparable fool of yourself in front of patients and colleagues
For a colleague of mine who works in public health, it was ending a counseling session with a newly diagnosed HIV+ patient with the words “Stay positive!” For another colleague, it was badmouthing a member of management within that person’s hearing. For me, it was tripping as I came into a room and (after bouncing off several pieces of equipment) ending up in the doctor’s lap.

Unfortunately, while the first two mistakes can be prevented (think before you speak), the last one can’t. The remedy in that last case is to make sure you’re still fully clothed, brush your hair out of your face and laugh it off.

Remember: No matter the error you’ve made, somebody else has done something worse. If your error hasn’t harmed anyone, the best thing to do about it is report it through the correct channels (error reporting helps change bad processes or confusing protocols) and then keep going. Making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad nurse; it just makes you human.

This post originally appeared in The Head Nurse blog.

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

    “Perfect fit” nursing

    Previous article

    Do You Have Access to Your Medical Records?

    Next article

    You may also like


    1. I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here.
      The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish.
      nonetheless, you command get got an shakiness over that you wish be
      delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as
      exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.

    2. I know this site presents quality dependent content and extra data, is there any other
      web page which gives such things in quality?

    3. It’s in reality a nice and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared
      this useful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this.
      Thank you for sharing.

    4. Wow, awesome blog structure! How long have you been running a blog for?
      you made blogging glance easy. The whole glance of your website is magnificent, let
      alone the content!

    5. Excellent, what a website it is! This web site gives
      valuable data to us, keep it up.

    6. Hi colleagues, how is the whole thing, and what you would
      like to say regarding this article, in my view its actually
      amazing in support of me.

    7. Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored to tears at work so I
      decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break.
      I really like the knowledge you present here and can’t
      wait to take a look when I get home. I’m shocked at how quick your
      blog loaded on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G ..
      Anyhow, fantastic site!

    8. I always spent my half an hour to read this web site’s articles or reviews everyday
      along with a cup of coffee.

    9. Hi, i feel that i saw you visited my site thus i
      came to go back the prefer?.I am trying to find things to enhance my web site!I guess its good enough to use some of
      your concepts!! asmr asmr

    10. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to
      this brilliant blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
      I look forward to fresh updates and will share
      this site with my Facebook group. Chat soon! quest
      bars quest bars

    11. I am really impressed together with your writing abilities and also with the format in your weblog.

      Is this a paid theme or did you customize it your self? Either way
      stay up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to look a
      great weblog like this one nowadays.. scoliosis surgery scoliosis surgery

    12. Whats up are using WordPress for your blog platform?

      I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and
      create my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make
      your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
      cheap flights cheap flights

    13. I have been browsing online more than 3 hours today,
      yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is
      pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and
      bloggers made good content as you did, the net will be
      a lot more useful than ever before. scoliosis surgery scoliosis

    14. I really like what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work and exposure!

      Keep up the very good works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll.
      quest bars quest bars

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    More in Scrubs