The blame game

By | 2021-05-07T16:10:24-04:00 May 11th, 2015|3 Comments

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.

Elizabeth Riffle, RN

Elizabeth Riffle, RN

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.

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About the Author:

Sallie Jimenez
Sallie Jimenez is content manager for healthcare for from Relias. She develops and edits content for the blog, which covers industry news and trends in the nursing profession and healthcare. She also develops content for the Digital Editions. She has more than 25 years of healthcare journalism, content marketing and editing experience.


  1. Avatar
    Devastated New Nurse October 31, 2015 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    It is heartbreaking to be a new nurse and come up against the shame-blame game. My first nursing job was supposed to be an internship for new grads but was actually a 6 week internship with several untrained preceptors and no “program” to speak of. There were no check sheets or goals and after my 6 weeks were up I was left to sink or swim. Every little mistake I made was written up and after 6 months I was fired and reported to the BON. I now have a Warning with Stipulations on my license. Believe me, these mistakes were not because I was not a diligent, good nurse. I was a “new” nurse. In each instance I asked for help and guidance and was either ignored or steered incorrectly. Even so, because it was ultimately my responsibility, I was blamed for the mistake. Instead of being counseled about the mistake and given retraining, I was shamed. And because I was a BSN among ADN’s It was always thrown in my face, “where did you go to school?” “Guess that BSN wasn’t worth anything after all.” It has taken me almost 4 years to recover from this incident but I am trying to make a comeback. I have taken a Nursing Refresher course and have done eighty more hours of clinical in hopes that someone will give me another chance at nursing. I did not go to nursing school until I was in my mid 40’s in hopes of making a better life for myself and this experience has been heartbreaking.

    • Avatar
      Elizabeth Riffle January 8, 2016 at 6:16 pm - Reply

      That is terrible to hear 🙁 This is exactly what many new nurses are up against, and it does not bode well for the future of our profession. Nurse residency programs are popping up all over the place to assist new nurses with their transition into the field, but we seem to still be coming up a bit short. I am sorry to hear that you had so many problems from the onset. It sounds like you did not have a supportive environment or the remediation necessary.

  2. Avatar
    Dave Cambria February 6, 2019 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Even the most experienced Registered Nurse gets attacked by coworkers. The simple truth is Administration can correct it but chooses to allow that outrageous behavior.

    No longer in Healthcare for many of the same reasons.

    How did Healhcare become this bad. Believe it’s all comes down to Greed.

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