discouraged nurse at work with her head in her hand

9 Top Nurse Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

In a perfect world, all patient care would be error free. But in practice, that rarely happens and all nurses make mistakes sometimes. However, some of these nursing mistakes are more preventable than others, so we’ve rounded up nine of these most common errors below – and offered nursing career advice on how to avoid them.


1. Wearing the Wrong Clothes and Shoes

When you’re a nurse, your wardrobe matters, and not necessarily just for looks (though of course, you want to look as professional and competent as possible). During nursing shifts, you’ll probably be on your feet for 12 hours at a time, so it’s critical that you wear supportive nursing shoes to reduce pain and stop foot issues from developing. You also need comfortable, functional scrubs that offer features such as plenty of pockets, moisture-wicking fabrics, and breathable vents, just to name a few. By purchasing high-quality scrubs and shoes, you’ll ensure that your focus can remain on the patients instead of making the nurse mistake of being distracted by hurting feet or uncomfortable clothes.


2. Neglecting Self-Care

Focusing so closely on your patients can make it hard to remember that you need to take care of yourself as well. While some nurses feel guilty about engaging in self-care, this practice is actually critical to providing the best care that you can, as tired, stressed-out nurses are more prone to making errors. Read a favorite book, watch your favorite TV show, massage your feet, go for a nature drive, meet friends for dinner, see a movie in theaters—whatever activity will refresh and rejuvenate you in between shifts.


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3. Driving While Sleepy

Drowsy driving is a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2015 over 72,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers, leading to 41,000 injuries and more than 800 deaths. Unfortunately, nurses are at great risk for drowsy driving due to their long shifts, disrupted sleep patterns, and overall lack of rest. Some nurses also work night shifts, putting their bodies at odds with a normal schedule and further increasing the likelihood that they will drive while sleepy. If you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open at the end of a shift, follow this nursing career advice and see if you can find an empty on-call room to take a quick nap before you hit the road.


4. Not Reading Medication Labels

Administering the wrong medication, or administering the right medication incorrectly, has consequences ranging from inconvenient to fatal. Don’t just snatch boxes and pill packs from the supply closets without looking closely. Lots of medical packaging employs similar designs, so double check that you’ve truly grabbed the correct one and not the lookalike. Also, be sure to read the fine print on the medication and follow the instructions for the dosage and administration – attention to detail is an essential nursing skill. Even if a physician tells you to give the medication to a patient in a particular way, read the label just to make sure and avoid this nurse mistake.


5. Operating Equipment Incorrectly

Don’t just assume you can figure out how to correctly operate a complex, expensive piece of medical equipment. This “wing it” mindset might work for your technology at home, but it’s asking for disaster if you apply it during work hours. Medical equipment poses a danger to both patients and staff when operated the wrong way, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to ask for a demonstration. Only use the equipment as recommended and try to be proactive and request training on devices that you aren’t sure how to operate.


nurse in an operating room with high-tech equipment


6. Leaving a Mess Behind You

Nurses rarely have their own space and usually work at a community nurses’ station instead. No matter how messy you are at home, make an effort to leave the nurses’ station and other areas such as the supply closet in good working order at the end of your shift. Find out if there are any organization or cleaning protocols for these areas and do your best to follow them. You don’t want to get a reputation for being the messy nurse that other people are always having to clean up after.


7. Forgetting Routines

Speaking of following the rules, you should also follow the facility protocols for patient care, including mundane tasks such as changing the bed sheets or cleaning equipment. These nursing skills and duties aren’t glamorous, but they have to be done by someone. If you don’t do all you’re assigned, another nurse is going to have to pick up the slack.

Of course, everyone forgets to-do items occasionally, but your coworkers will not appreciate it if you become a repeat offender. If you really struggle to remember everything that you have to do, create a personal master checklist that you can refer back to during a shift.


8. Documenting Care Incorrectly

When people first become nurses, they don’t necessarily think about all the paperwork it involves. But proper patient care requires a lot of documentation to ensure that people are getting the help they need when they need it (not to mention it significantly reduces your liability as a nurse in case there is ever a lawsuit). Some items to consider recording when you are charting a patient include health and drug information, medications that have been given, any discontinued medications, your nursing actions, any changes in the patient’s condition, and any orders given or received regarding the patient’s care.


nurse updating a patient's chart at the reception desk


9. Not Learning from Your Mistakes

Every single nurse, no matter how experienced they are, makes mistakes sometimes. The key is not beating yourself up over the experience, but rather identifying what you did wrong and making a plan to get better. Whether you’ve made one of the eight other mistakes listed here or done something entirely different, you’ll never become the best nurse that you can be if you don’t use these instances as opportunities to improve and ultimately benefit your nursing career.

By Debbie Swanson, Guest Author | June 13, 2019
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