How long were you a nurse before you felt competent? Is there a mistake you made early in your practice that you still remember? How did it impact your practice?

Nurses love to tell stories; everything from the unbelievable to the embarrassing within the annals of their practice.

The story I tell is uncomfortable for what it reveals about me as a new grad. I was working on a head and neck surgical oncology unit, back when radical neck surgeries were more common. I was still in new grad orientation and being mentored by a nurse with many years of experience. After one particularly busy shift, I gave her reports on each patient, which included vitals, meds passed, and other important data. After reviewing those reports with her, I mentioned that I had drained the JPs on one patient for a total output of 400 mL.


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“400?” She asked. It wasn’t until I heard the incredulity in her voice that I realized my mistake. My focus was on draining, measuring, and keeping track of the Is and Os, but I failed to put the high output into context. I was so absorbed in the smaller tasks and making sure I got everything done that I missed what I should have noticed: high output likely indicated bleeding rather than the expected drainage.

We didn’t exactly race down the hall to check on the patient, but we moved quickly. Luckily the bleeding had slowed and the patient was fine. And lucky for me, my mentor was gentle as she explained to me what I should have done and what I should have known to do. She explained in a way that didn’t make me feel stupid, just inexperienced. I remind myself of that story when I am asked a question that I think a nurse should know the answer to. I think of my mentor and how she made my mistake a pivotal learning point.