Eight Steps to Turn Mistakes into Golden Learning Opportunities


Article Categories: Environment & Legal and Ethics

Being a nursing assistant means never a dull day at work. Most days, you have so many tasks at hand, all begging for your attention at once, that you unknowingly make mistakes.



Can you remember a time you stopped in your tracks at work because you suddenly realized you made a significant error? What instinctively came to mind? How did you react and what did you do about it?

Let’s take the case of Samantha:

Samantha is a new CNA finishing her second month in hospice care. Sam is showing great potential as she performs her duties with enthusiasm. One day, she overheard a nurse discussing the importance of elevating the head of the bed when feeding patients, and maintaining the elevation for a half hour after meals.

This came as a shock. She remembered that, in her fourth week on the job, a frail elderly patient suddenly had difficulty breathing a few minutes after Sam fed her. She was rushed to the hospital and soon passed away.

Sam distinctly recalled helping the patient sleep flat on her back right after dinner because she had asked to turn in early. It hit her like a bolt of lightning—did she cause her patient to end up in the emergency room?

She quickly realized her mistake. She should not have allowed the elderly patient to sleep on her back right after a meal, because the risk of aspiration (breathing difficulties from food substances entering the lungs) is so high in this situation. Although she couldn’t be sure there was a connection between her mistake and her patient’s death, shivers ran down her spine. Now she knows better than to let her patients sleep flat on their back after eating, especially if they are weak or have swallowing problems.

If you find yourself in a similar nerve-wracking situation, what should you do to turn things around and find the silver lining?

1. Acknowledge your mistake. Before anything can be done about it, there must be an eye-opener that acknowledges and identifies the problem. Accept the reality that you made a mistake so you can start corrective measures and your healing process.

2. Don't play the blame game. It is human nature to want to blame someone or something else when errors were made, to make it less humiliating and guilt-ridden. But, you can only look into your faulty decision-making and the circumstances that led to the accident.

3. Follow protocol for reporting errors. In healthcare, mistakes are not taken lightly since the patients’ safety is at stake. Whenever errors are recognized, there is a procedure that must be strictly followed, whether or not the patient sustained an injury. This protocol helps in research and devising ways to reduce similar incidents in the future.

4. Accept the consequences. When a patient is injured or likely harmed because of a CNA’s mistake, there will be consequences. These can range from a simple reprimand or memo to lawsuits and the revocation of your license. Braving out the negative effects while providing patient care is a difficult but necessary journey to ensure justice, and of course, that no similar incident happens again.

5. Forgive yourself. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to let go of your own guilt, especially if the patient was harmed because of your mistake. Learning to move on can be very challenging at this point, so much so that you simply can’t expect to find peace overnight. Take it one day at a time until you gain back your confidence.

6. Ask, “What can I do to prevent future mistakes?” Ultimately, before you can carry on with your job as a nursing assistant, you need to put back the broken pieces by learning your lessons the hard way. You must think of ways to prevent such accidents from happening again.

7. Share the lesson with others. Because mistakes are life's greatest teacher, share your experience with others so they can also be wary and cautious when dealing with similar situations.

8. Move on and do not repeat the same mistake. Don’t let your error prevent you from doing what you love most—caring for others. Pick up the pieces and carry on. Just be sure to not make the same mistake twice.

Mishaps teach you golden lessons you can learn from and treasure in the long run. Do everything in your power to prevent one, but if you find yourself in a sticky situation due to a mistake in patient care, get back up, reflect on the lesson, and then overcome.

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