I can remember the stinging sensation of tears filling my eyes as I walked towards my car. Only minutes before I had experienced my first nursing school skills validation, but the outcome was not what I expected. I failed. This feeling of being a failure and the immense disappointment was new to me. I began to fiercely doubt myself and the ability to continue on in the nursing program. How could I possibly be a nurse if I couldn't perform the skills nursing demanded?
This situation unfolded twice more during my nursing school experience. Confidence broken and nerves running rampant, I allowed myself to expect failure. Hands on skills would always be a weakness of mine, I reasoned. But then the idea that maybe I was being a bit harsh on myself came to mind. These skills and nursing school experiences were completely new to me. I had never attempted IV/IM medication administration or placing foley catheters, and yet I was upset at my lack of perfection during my skills validations. What happened after I let go of striving for perfection and started to treat myself with kindness and grace? I started to ace my skills validations.
It is unrealistic to think you won't make mistakes as a nursing student and as a nurse. Ask just about any nurse and depending on how candid he or she is, they will tell you about the countless mistakes they have made.
In nursing school, especially in an extremely competitive program, you're likely to be surrounded by high achieving Type A students who are giving it their all each day and have no problem broadcasting their success to others. In nursing school there is already llittle room for error if you hope to make top grades in lecture and clinical. Then there is the pressure to keep up with the high achievers. You may be wondering how they are making it through nursing school so gracefully. Can I let you in on a little secret? The people whose success you may be admiring or envious of may not be as flawless as you think.
It was well known amongst our nursing school cohort that Kleneice and I were top students. But what few people knew was that we missed assignments, failed skills validations, failed clinical at midterm, earned mediocre grades in our favorite subjects, and overslept and missed classes. Since we've been working as nurses we've made errors with drawing labs, medication errors, a needlestick injury and much more. Why am I telling you this? First and foremost, I would never want any of you to have a false impression of who we are. We want to let you know that although we graduated at the top of our nursing class, landed jobs on two specialty units and passed NCLEX in 75 questions, we did not escape nursing school unscathed, nor have we been flawless as bedside nurses.
Even though we've made errors at work we're still determined to give our best every day. Do not let anyone make you feel inferior or stupid because of a mistake you've made or a a failure you've experienced. You won't be able to find a perfect nursing student or nurse. They simply don't exist. We caused ourselves a lot of unnecessary stress at the beginning of nursing school because we were basically striving for perfection. Not only did we feel a lot less anxious and depressed when we lifted those unreasonable expectations, but we also began to perfom better.
Mistakes and failures are an inevitable part of life, but they do not define who you are as a person or who you will be as a nurse. A misshap doesn't mean that you are a failure. It simply means you are a human being. Do not listen to anyone who tries to convince you of the opposite.
So what should you do after you make a mistake? It is important to recognize why and how the mistake occured. Were you rushing? Do you need to study/practice more? Is it an anxiety issue? Is it a system failure at work? After you have recognized why the mistake occured, determine what you can learn from the situation in order to be prepared if similar circumstances arise again. Take responsibility for the error/failure and then let it stay in the past. Remember this misshap has no defining power about who you are.
It is my hope that this blog post gives you some peace when a misshap occurs. As nurses and nursing students, we are subject to criticism from fellow nurses, students, professors, patients, and patient families, but we should always be kind to ourselves. The last thing we need is criticism from ourselves when we can be exposed to it from so many other sources. Be kind to yourself always, and allow yourself to be molded and shaped by all your experiences as a nursing student and nurse, including the good and bad.