By Elizabeth M. Riffle, BSN, RN, RNC-OB, CCBE, MSN-Ed(c)
I don’t think of nursing as a job; it’s part of who I am. I love being a nurse — the difference I can make and the lives I can empower — and I want others to enjoy being a part of the profession as much as I do. But the responsibility can be overwhelming at times. Nurses are expected to be perfect because lives are at stake, but mistakes do happen because “to err is human.” A mistake actually presents an opportunity for growth. But when errors occur, there can be a human tendency toward blame and shame and a rush to judgment.
Unfortunately, assigning blame is not new to nursing. Since the Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Policy was implemented in 1996, nurses have been presented with monthly incident reports that regularly remind them of the mistakes they’ve made. All echelons of nursing can be found belittling one another for making an error, and that’s disappointing. As an educator and a leader, I have made it my duty to quell this type of behavior when I see or hear it, but I cannot make the difference alone.
Even asking for help can cause shame if the nurse you are asking chooses to criticize you before providing assistance. All it takes is one exasperated expression or snide remark to cause shame, and from my personal experience, it takes three times as much praise to overcome this type of experience. More experienced nurses should recognize situations in which new nurses might need assistance before they even realize the need to ask. We should be cultivating the next generation instead of alienating them.
In addition, instead of pointing the finger, nurses should offer assistance in figuring out why an error occurred and how it could be prevented next time; this way we all learn together.
Leadership should be setting their employees up for success by implementing recommendations regarding nurse-to-patient ratios. But every nurse should be upholding the first provision within the Code of Ethics for Nurses — to practice with “compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth and unique attributes of every person.”
I urge you to not be the nurse who belittles others. Instead be the nurse who helps and supports your colleagues as much as you would your patients. After all, we are all in this together. There is no such thing as a perfect nurse, and we cannot provide healthcare alone. We need to respect and be able to rely on each other as stepping stones toward the common goal of health and wellness for all.
Elizabeth M. Riffle, BSN, RN, RNC-OB, CCBE, MSN-Ed(c), is a staff nurse at Naval Hospital Bremerton (Wash.), U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.
To comment, email [email protected]