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It’s OK to make mistakes

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Making mistakes during placements should be seen as a learning opportunity to improve your practice, shares student nurse Louisa

Louisa Davies

Louisa Davies

We all know how daunting placements can be. It can be stressful trying to care for patients, learn new things, and impress your mentors. 

So that’s why, occasionally, mistakes happen. And when they do, do you beat yourself up about them or see them as a learning opportunity and something to work on for next time? 

I, personally, do both. And I’ve made my fair share of mistakes during my first year of training. Some have been minor and easily forgotten, and others, well, they’ve taken a little longer to get over. 

For example, the elderly woman I was caring for who tripped in the bathroom because I wasn’t aware of how much support she needed; or the baby whose cot side I accidentally left down on a night shift, because tiredness had set in. I still grapple with my guilt over both these incidents; despite knowing they were not intentional in any way. 

In the first incident, I had never taken anyone to the bathroom before, let alone an elderly blind person. I knew the woman had reduced sight but I didn’t realise the full extent of her condition and therefore wasn’t aware she needed as much guidance as she did.

Even though no harm was done I still felt bad, especially when a risk assessment form had to be completed afterwards and her family was informed of her accident. 

In the second incident, I had never worked night shifts before and, on my third and last consecutive night shift, after going in to feed a baby, I forgot to put back up one cot side. It was a healthcare assistant, to my shock and horror, who went into the room shortly after and informed me of my error. I’ll never make that mistake again, that’s for sure!

Although it’s easy to get disheartened by these events, I know it’s important for me to remember that there is value in making errors and that by reflecting on these events I can improve my patient care. 

These events have taught me to always gain as much information as possible about patients before undertaking their care, as basic as it may seem, and to always double check the safety of my patients and make it second nature. 

Thankfully, no harm was done due to the mistakes I made, but we all get scared of making mistakes, especially when we hear about serious incidents, such as accidental drug overdoses due to incorrect calculations. 

But if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that all you can do is be as prepared as possible and do your best. Don’t dwell on what went wrong, just focus on what you can improve or change for next time. I know universities insist on reflection, but it really is a useful process to improve your practice when out on placement. And remember, we are students – and it’s a mistake not to use your mistakes as part of the learning process. 

Louisa Davies is currently in her first year studying children’s nursing at Edge Hill University



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