Congratulations! You graduated from nursing school, you got your new scrubs on, and you’re ready to make the world a better place, one patient at a time. As you start your nursing career, you go in filled with hope and ambition. You know that people’s safety, recovery, and even lives, depend on you being great at your job. And you’re ready to prove yourself worthy.
And still, there’s no guarantee that you’ll never make a mistake on the job. Even the most competent and well-trained professionals can have an oversight, may experience a bad day, or can involuntarily alienate a coworker or patient. Being a good nurse 24/7 is close to impossible. You don’t have to beat yourself up if you’re not perfect for every second of your life.
While perfection is out of reach, you still have to try to be the best nurse you can be. And especially as a new nurse, there are some common nursing mistakes that you may be making even without realizing it. Little errors can be easy to correct once you acknowledge and address them.
Afterall, you don’t want to be the bad nurse in your unit – the pariah neither liked by the team nor the patients. Throughout your nursing career, you want to keep the hope and ambition you had when you first walked through the door.
So, here are the nursing mistakes to avoid if you don’t want to be the “bad nurse” in your department:
Acting Like a Know-It-All
As a new graduate entering the nursing workforce, you are packed to capacity with textbook knowledge. Information you learned during your nursing program is extremely valuable and is an immense asset for the new RN. You can’t wait to display it all and prove what a great nurse you are.
If you walk into your workplace and immediately assume you know-it-all, you’ll most likely be perceived as arrogant. That’s not you putting your best foot forward as a nurse. You need to keep learning even after you’re finished with nursing school. Listen to the experienced RNs’ advice. Observe and learn from their experiences. Absorb their know-how. Ask them questions when you’re not sure of something.
What you lack at the beginning of your nursing career is on-ground, bedside professional expertise. You may have some experience from your clinical rotations, but this is the real world. Textbook cases that you were so good at solving in school are rare. The seasoned nurses who work in your department have gained experience beyond what is taught in school. Take advantage of their advice and mentorship.
Thinking that you always know best is the sign of a bad nurse. You need to be open to receive help.
Giving Into Imposter Syndrome
On the other side of the spectrum are nurses who experience “imposter syndrome,” which is when you constantly doubt your knowledge and abilities. It’s feeling incompetent and stressed at all times. You are relentlessly assuming you are not smart enough or qualified enough for this position. It’s when you have no faith in yourself and the educational foundation you have from nursing school. And that attitude is wrong. Crippling self-doubt can also turn you into a bad nurse.
When you feel like you’re not cut out to be a nurse, you may close yourself off. You feel guilty for not remembering every single thing you learned in school. You may be fearful of asking too many questions. Maybe you feel distressed asking for help because you think everyone already has too much on their plate without you adding your queries to it.
That’s when you need to stop and remember every nurse was a beginner once. Talk about your insecurities with your colleagues or Nurse Manager. They can help you get over your fears by providing feedback on your work and performance. Ask for help, absorb information like a sponge, and keep improving your skills every day. This will build your confidence and will make you a better nurse.
Failing to Be Professional on the Job
One common nursing mistake is acting and looking unprofessional. There are a myriad of ways in which this manifests itself. You are often late for your shifts. You neglect your attire. You constantly interrupt people who are trying to help you or give you advice. This type of behavior can definitely ruin your reputation as an RN and make your team see you as the “bad nurse” in the ward or department.
If you want to turn your peers’ opinions around, you need to make sure you are always professional and presentable on the job. Show up on time for your shifts, or let the supervisor know if you will be late. Your fellow nurses need to be able to rely on you, and that means getting to work on time. When people try to explain something to you, make sure you listen carefully and don’t jump the gun with your comments.
Importantly, always look and be ready for work. Your scrubs need to be clean and tidy, and they must be the right size to fit you. That is for practical as much as aesthetic reasons. Wearing the wrong size scrubs will be uncomfortable, and you don’t want to add personal discomfort on top of your already demanding shift.
Starting or Engaging in Nurses Station Gossip
Gossiping is certainly a sign of a bad nurse. Some see it as more of a gray area, saying that some innocent gossip builds a sense of camaraderie. But in fact, gossip can be very harmful. It will likely damage your relationship with others and paint you as a person who is not worthy of respect or trust.
Regardless if it’s about patients, colleagues, supervisors, or others, tittle-tattling without their knowledge is rude and disrespectful. Often gossip is demeaning and belittling, so it can make people feel insecure and lower their morale. You don’t want to be the kind of nurse who brings people down. You want to be supportive and lift them up. It’s in everyone’s best interest that coworkers collaborate and communicate with each other instead of behind each other’s backs.
Being Lazy and Uncooperative
When it comes to work ethic, in every workplace, there are different types of people. Some employees are very dedicated and work harder than others. Some will choose the “work smarter, not harder” route. And then there are those who will only do the bare minimum and not lift a finger more. Things are the same in the nursing field.
If you don’t want to be a bad nurse, you should do your best to stay away from the third category. Being constantly bothered by the patient’s requests, refusing to perform certain tasks, rushing through assignments without worrying about the quality of your work – these actions will affect your standing within the organization. Moreover, they can be harmful to the patient.
People don’t appreciate the nurses who spend too much time on your phone even though they see their coworkers drowning in work. Refusing to help your colleagues because “it’s not your job” is a sign of a lousy nurse. By being lazy on the job, you show disinterest and unwillingness to cooperate. And cooperation, teamwork, and synergy are some of the cornerstones of good nursing practice.
Disregarding Nursing Protocols
Not paying attention to following the nursing protocols and the patient care routines is one of the more severe mistakes a nurse can make. It’s not only your reputation amongst your colleagues that’s at risk, but also your patients’ wellbeing.
For example, not following protocol when entering and leaving isolation rooms can help spread disease to other patients and coworkers. Not cleaning the equipment properly can lead to infections or other problems. Errors in charting can lead to potentially dangerous missteps in care. Suppose you misrecord or forget to record patient interactions. You accidentally forget to mention a patient’s allergy to penicillin in their medical history. Or maybe you don’t record your actions, such as giving or stopping certain medications. These types of medical errors can have more severe outcomes.
Not Owning Up to Your Mistakes & Learning From Them
Generally, nurses strive to be perfect at their job because they know the immense responsibility lying on their shoulders. But to err is human. As much as RNs would like to avoid it, there’s no guarantee that they’ll never make a mistake on the job. Maybe you documented things incorrectly or made a medication error. Perhaps you weren’t able to prevent a patient’s fall. You called a patient by the wrong name, or you missed something important about the patient’s state because you rushed through an assessment. Some mistakes are less severe; others, unfortunately, may have dire consequences.
The difference between a good nurse and a bad nurse is in what happens immediately after the mishap.
Some nurses choose to keep silent. They may try to cover up the mistake or find a scapegoat because they are too embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid of the consequences. And that can be detrimental. The first thing when a mistake happens should be acknowledging and reporting it. Be accountable for your actions and be proactive about fixing your errors. Speak to your manager and see if you can be part of the solution. Most mistakes are remediable as long as you don’t hide them.
Also, always reflect on what led to the mistake in the first place. Was your attention impaired because you were exhausted and overworked? Was it impossible to focus on your task because of something else going on in your personal life? Did you lack the expertise but were too embarrassed to ask for advice? Find the root problem and work to ensure you don’t let that affect your performance again. It’s important to reflect, not ruminate. Nursing mistakes are a learning opportunity. Use them to improve your skills and become a better nurse.
At the same time, don’t bury your feelings. Be angry, be remorseful, cry, and talk about it. Seek professional help if you need it. If you’re not going to process your emotions, they’ll come back to haunt you later.
Additionally, it’s best to share your mistakes with other nurses. The more transparent you are about your missteps, the easier it will be for yourself and others to avoid them in the future. Nurses learn from each other and grow together as a team and as better professionals. Instead of tip-toeing around a topic, the healthy thing is to bring it out in the open.
Not Listening to Your Body
By definition, nursing is a very stressful profession. Especially in bedside nursing, your schedule is irregular; you work long shifts and are on your feet all day. You’re around a lot of pain and suffering, so that may affect your emotional state.
At a certain point, you may feel unbearable emotional exhaustion. You’re tired, drained of energy, and overwhelmed. You become a lot more cynical; it’s harder to empathize with your patients or find joy and value in what you do. Concentrating is increasingly challenging, and errors become a more frequent occurrence.
All of these are burnout symptoms. Your body is telling you you’ve reached a point of physical and emotional exhaustion that can be detrimental to you and your patients. When you are not well, that will affect your work, attitude, and relationships with your colleagues and patients. Burnt out nurses tend to be bitter, unpleasant to work with, and more importantly, they can hinder their patients’ safety.
Everything from a healthy diet, practicing self-care to setting boundaries can help you prevent burnout and avoid becoming the bad nurse in your institution. Discover more strategies to combat burnout and get back to being the great nurse everyone knows you have the potential to be.
The bad nurse label doesn’t have to be your scarlet letter. Throughout your nursing career, you can learn from your nursing mistakes, grow by listening to your mentors and fellows; you can improve by being receptive to constructive feedback. Suppose you see the characteristics of a bad nurse in yourself and do everything in your power to combat them. In that case, you will become better – a better professional, a better caregiver, coworker, employee, and a better human.
No nurse is a bad nurse as long as they’re willing to learn.
Good nursing practice comes from a strong foundation. Enroll in our BSN program and start building that foundation brick by brick. Boost your nursing skills and take your education one step forward with our online RN-to-BSN program. A good nurse is one who never stops improving.