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Why are nurses so bad at maths?

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Why do nurses consider themselves to be so bad at maths? Over the years, I have worked with so many nurses who have really struggled with drug calculations. I myself do not feel comfortable doing a calculation without the aid of a calculator.
When I was at school from the age of 11 – 14 maths was my favourite subject and I was in the top group (we only had 2 ability groups in those days) which I was really proud of. I was a bit of a rebel and didn’t concentrate well whilst at school so I spent all the rest of my lessons in the lower ability group.

Mind you it was good because we got to do typing instead of Latin – what a result with the evolution of the computer world! And we did cookery instead of German (I loved school!). Somehow when I was more mature I discovered how to study hard and became a high achiever academically.

Anyway back to the maths issue. Sadly everything changed for me when I became really unwell with glandular fever at the age of 14 and was off school for several weeks. On my return I was put down into the lower ability maths group, where the teacher was worse at maths than most of us, and eventually had a nervous breakdown and left. The best result I could manage was a grade D at O’level and grade 2 CSE (for those of you who remember that far back).

Despite being fairly bright in the cerebral department generally, my maths continues to be far from good. My poor father (who is an accountant!!) has tried to explain things like Bank of England base rate, VAT and how to calculate percentages, but I’m afraid that without my calculator and written instructions to remind myself how to get an answer – I’m hopeless!!

Thankfully during my active nursing days when I was managing syringe drivers, various medicine pumps and drug rounds, I did not (as far as I’m aware) make any mistakes.

The NMC now ensure that any nurse or midwife undertaking the prescribing training must have confirmation from their employer that they are able to demonstrate appropriate numeracy skills and that these would be further developed within the context of prescribing and assessed on the course and they must achieve a 100% pass.

The reaction of some of the nurses who I have spoken to who are undertaking the training is worry about this. However in order to ensure our patients are as safe as possible and to avoid errors in drug calculations this move by the NMC is a positive one.

There is an online organisation called that provides training and assessment for drug calculations. They have a brochure which can be downloaded and will give you a month’s free trial on request.

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