How Should Nurse Practitioners Recover from a Mistake at Work?

Have you ever made a mistake on the job that left you reeling with emotion? For nurse practitioners, when we make a mistake, its impacts not only have the potential to affect our careers but could put our patient’s life at risk. Unsure of what the devastation may be, mistakes can feel impossible to overcome and can cause you to suffer sleepless nights, stress, anxiety and depression. You may question your capability as an NP and begin to second guess whether you chose the right profession. 

Yet even when the outcome of a mistake doesn’t have the potential for such detrimental repercussions, overcoming the blow to your ego can still be quite difficult. Will you be able to bounce back and regain confidence in your abilities as an NP?

If you’re struggling to overcome a mistake you made at work, here are five ways to recover.

Admit your fault and follow the proper protocol for reporting the mistake

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Admitting fault and taking blame for a mistake can be hard but covering up or lying about a wrongdoing is never a good idea. Being in denial about your role only keeps you in a stagnant situation that will not allow you to move forward in a positive manner. Regardless of whether or not your mistake could have caused potentially serious harm to a patient, it does not negate the fact that an error was made. It’s important that you always follow the protocol that your facility has for reporting mistakes and be forthright in explaining exactly what happened. This helps protect you if your mistake has any legal ramifications. In a report released by the Institute of Medicine entitled, “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System”, reporting potentially harmful errors that were intercepted before harm was done, errors that did not cause harm, and near miss errors is just as important as reporting the ones that do harm patients.

When mistakes are properly and truthfully reported, it provides information that’s critical in helping your employer better understand exactly what happened, what factors caused the mistake to occur, and what policies and procedures may need to be created or modified in order to prevent similar errors from happening again. Following the protocol ultimately improves patient safety.

Not to mention, in the event of a resulting malpractice case or a nursing board investigation, covering up a mistake could further implicate that you acted negligently and intentionally. Honesty is the best policy.

Accept that mistakes are going to happen

At some point during your career as a nurse practitioner, and perhaps even during your NP education, you are going to make mistakes. It’s going to be inevitable no matter how great you are in your practice. Making a mistake doesn’t mean that you’re a bad provider; it simply means that you are human and are not any less immune to human error. In order to bounce back, you have to be willing to accept that mistakes can happen to anyone.

Be proactive, not reactive

Rather than wishing you could go back in time and do things differently, be proactive about your mistake; using it as an opportunity to further your personal growth and maturity as a provider. Start by evaluating what the contributing factors were that lead to you making this mistake. Were you rushing too fast between patients? Were you attempting a clinical skill that was beyond your level of ability? After reflecting on your wrongdoing and getting to the root of the problem, create an action plan for how you can improve in the future with possible solutions and preventative measures you’ll take to ensure this mistake doesn’t happen again, like attending a clinical workshop or becoming better at time management. Talking with your employer about your action plan can be beneficial as well, especially if you’re worried about the future of your employment.

Seek support from others

After you make a mistake at work you’ll almost certainly feel a mixture of emotions, and their severity may be worse depending on the nature of your error. Don’t suffer alone in silence. Seeking out emotional support from other providers can be especially helpful as they can help you see things from a different perspective and their support can give you the assurance you need to move forward as they’ll likely share they’re own experiences with you. Your support system may even be the source of encouragement you need to seek professional help if your really struggling to come to grips with what happened.

See the silver lining

Reframe your mistake in a positive light by seeing what silver linings could arise from its ashes. While they’re certainly hard, mistakes are not only a necessary part of your personal growth as an NP but can be used as a teaching opportunity to help other providers not make the same mistake you did. It could even prompt drastic changes in the standards of care; in fact, many medical errors have resulted in such over the last several decades.

For example, a pregnant patient named Linda came into the ER with extreme nausea and vomiting that left her severely dehydrated with a low potassium level. Linda’s nurse made a mathematical error and administered too much intravenous potassium. Within the hour, Linda was dead. In the 1980s and 1990s, patient safety groups drew attention to the need for removal of concentrated potassium chloride vials from patient care areas. Today, almost all US hospitals have removed the drug from floor stock on patient care units and potassium is now added to IVs by the manufacturer and labeled. While there were many tragedies like Linda’s as a result of concentrated potassium, their stories prompted limiting access to the drug, which has now saved the lives of many patients.

Ultimately, the desire to recover from a mistake at work is a choice you will have to make. It’s up to you to not allow it to break you. Remember, mistakes are an essential part of your journey as an NP. Without them, you can’t become better in your practice nor can you strive harder to improve the lives of the patients you treat.


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