A nursing career provides you the opportunity to work with myriad of healthcare professionals and serve a variety of patients in numbers too great to count. Your daily tasks will be as diverse as your patients, and you will inevitably put pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly. After all, this is the field of healthcare, right? One little mistake could have grave consequences.
While it is obviously necessary to have competent nurses serving those in need, it is unrealistic to expect yourself to never make a mistake. In fact, striving for this impossible perfection can lead to unnecessary stress and burnout.
That said, there are more than a few common nursing mistakes made on a regular basis. To help you avoid some of these common pitfalls, we spoke with experts in the field of nursing and asked them to offer up their advice.
5 Rookie nursing mistakes to avoid
Want to hit the ground running in a new nursing position? Do your best to steer clear of the following foul-ups experienced nurses have learned to avoid:
1. Assuming you know it all
“When you’re fresh out of nursing school, you’ve been built up and are so proud of your license,” says Brittney Wilson, RN and owner of The Nerdy Nurse. “You may not realize how arrogant you can appear to your new coworkers. Be humble, ask questions and don’t contradict people when they give you advice.”
Straight out of nursing school you’re chock-full of textbook nursing knowledge and might be eager to speak up and try to prove that you’re capable. Enthusiasm is great, but be mindful of how you might sound to experienced nurses who’ve spent years doing the job. The nurses you’re working with know their stuff, so take advantage of their knowledge. As the saying goes, you have two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason—listen and observe first before speaking up.
Experienced nurses expect to mentor those new to the practice. Asking for advice from other nurses builds trust, leads to teamwork and helps you do what’s best for your patients. Relying only on your own knowledge could result in a multitude of much graver mistakes.
2. Ignoring yourself
The field of nursing tends to attract people who have a strong sense of empathy. While being able to empathize with your patients is essential for success, it can also lead to self-neglect. It is easy to get wrapped up in the emotions and lives of the patients and families you serve to the point that they are still dominating your mind when you are trying to spend quality time with your own family after a 12-hour shift.
Whether it’s a three-mile run or 30 minutes engrossed in your favorite author’s newest novel, make time for activities that are enjoyable and rejuvenating. Plan nutritious meals and take the time to actually eat them. A nurse who is not emotionally and physically healthy has a very difficult time providing the best care to his or her patients. This also goes for developing relationships with your team of nurses. Being energized with a joyful demeanor will help you connect with coworkers instead of spreading an exhausted and negative vibe.
3. Neglecting your wardrobe
Wilson insists you can’t overestimate the importance of your attire. Wearing scrubs that are too loose or too tight will not only result in personal discomfort, but also in leading your patients and coworkers to see you as unprofessional.
It’s likely even more important to focus on having the proper footwear. You’ll spend a lot of time on your feet—and it doesn’t get more comfortable with age. Choose shoes with good support, and consider wearing compression socks. Nurses are constantly moving around during their shifts, and inappropriate footwear could lead to injuries that prevent you from performing your job responsibilities.
4. Creating and leaving a mess
When it comes to individual workspaces for nurses, most are very limited in size if they exist at all. Instead, nurses utilize community spaces like nursing stations, and they access supplies from med rooms utilized by many employees. Wilson emphasizes that you do not want to be the nurse who is constantly leaving papers strewn about the nurses’ station or destroying the organization system in the med room.
Of course there will be days when your coffee spills on the desk when you are rushing to answer a nurse call button or when you misplace a bottle of meds after having a stressful interaction with a patient. You are human. Apologize when things go wrong, but do what you can to be conscientious in your attempt to avoid making messes.
5. Forgetting patient care routines
Wilson explains that there are procedures nurses are required to complete when it comes to patient routines. Things like changing the sheets, recording information from patient interactions and cleaning equipment are a few of these tasks.
While it may not seem like a big deal to forget to change the sheets, remember that another nurse will end up having to complete that part of your responsibility along with multiple other tasks on their plate for the day. Other nurses may pick up the slack for your occasional oversight, but don’t plan on making it a habit.
If you are a repeat offender in this area, make yourself a personal checklist of the procedures you tend to forget. Also, try to find the nurse that has had to cover for you, and if possible, offer to take a few items off their to-do list for the day.
Do learn from mistakes
“A good nurse is someone that is always ready to learn more,” Wilson says. “Above all, a nurse must care and want to make a positive difference in the life of others.”
Nursing mistakes are bound to happen—the key for new nurses is how they learn from them. Take the above advice to heart and you’ll avoid being seen as a bad nurse. But that’s not all you’ll need to know as you get started in your nursing career. Learn more about the safety fundamentials you'll need to master in our article, “A Crash Course in Patient Safety: 6 Things New Nurses Need to Know."