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It’s OK to be wrong

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Think you’re the only one to make mistakes? Think again.

When I’m on placement, I get a lot of things wrong.

I make mistakes, I write in the wrong file, I misread blood pressure, I can’t find the answer to the doctor’s questions…. I could go on, but I’m not painting a great picture of myself! The truth is, I’m a student, I’m learning and I’m constantly observed and guided by an excellent team of mentors. This is the time that I’m supposed to make mistakes, from the silly to the scary - because every mistake teaches me something new.

I see people around me, both qualified and unqualified, doing similar things sometimes. It’s human nature. Nobody is perfect, particularly when working your third 13-hour shift in a row, with six patients to look after, and no lunch break because you’re dealing with an emergency -well, just find me a cape for the nurse who can get everything spot on.

But where I’ve been based for the majority of my placements, patient care doesn’t suffer for the sake of human error. We work as a team, and while everybody has a named nurse who is in charge of their care, the nurses are always talking to each other, checking in with the shift leader and, of course, watching us students like hawks. Silly mistakes don’t go unnoticed, and if someone if unsure of something, this is debated and checked- ultimately giving patients the very best treatment.

I’ve worked in other settings, both before and after starting my training, where the culture was very different. Making a mistake or having a question was seen as a personal weakness and an admission that you weren’t capable of doing the job.

This is where things get dangerous. If a mistake is made, it’s imperative for the safety of the patient to get that mistake rectified and ensure it doesn’t happen again. This can only really happen if people are willing to discuss what they did and why, debrief with the rest of the team and put action plans in place for the future.

But in an environment where staff are terrified of losing their jobs, and students scared of failing the placement, this is a tough thing to do. It takes a brave person to speak out when things haven’t gone well and they can feel like they are risking a lot.

As students, we are best placed to change this culture.

No-one can fail you for being truthful or for asking questions. No-one is going to think you will be a bad nurse just because you are open and curious about everything that is going on. If we all, as a generation, made it ‘ok’ to be honest, to ask, double-check, and ask again, and most importantly remember that making mistakes is something that happens to all of us , then we can change this culture from the bottom up.

We need to be able to rely on each other, not be in competition for an imaginary prize, and we need to remember what really matters, which is of course the patient.


Rachael Starkey is Student NT’s Children’s branch student editor

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