Honesty and the Ability to Take Responsibility

Health care professionals deal with life and death issues. Accuracy is essential to success. Despite all of the best efforts, there will be times when mistakes happen. When they do, it is important that all efforts are turned to righting the error, and never to trying to cover it up. The timely reporting of the error can be extremely important to the successful correction. There is not room for excuses. Just take action and make efforts to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.

Mistakes and even near misses are avenues for learning. Avoiding errors in the first place is always best, but when they do happen, learn from your mistakes and grow from the experience.

Staffing shortages, such as those nurses face in many areas, can often lead to mistakes. This adds to the job stress, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Working to solve these shortages by enforcing nurse-to-patient ratios or to address the patient acuity and to reduce some of the responsibilities are areas where some progress is being made to reduce errors.

Technological advances are being used to address the problem of errors as well. For example, using barcodes to identify and match patients to their medications can help to avoid costly medication errors. But this is successful only if the process is followed. It is essential that health care team members take this issue seriously and develop and maintain a strong work ethic steeped in honesty and a commitment to always strive for accuracy.


Sometimes errors can involve a situation that is very uncomfortable, such as learning of a mistake that someone else made and having to confront them and/or to report it to your supervisor. The patient's well-being must be the top priority, and every mistake must be reported upon discovery.

It is possible the error may just be an omission in the charting, but this is an error nonetheless. This is usually an easy one to correct, and unless it has caused the patient harm, such as in the form of having something repeated, it usually has little or no impact on the patient's condition. Simple correction of the omission can be done following the facility's rules for doing so.

The rule that if it isn't charted, it wasn't done is a standard by which every health care worker must live. The chart can be amended as long as the person doing so has full memory of what transpired, but omissions should always be avoided in the first place and certainly never become the norm.

Honesty is an essential characteristic for health care workers, and the ability to accept responsibility is just as important. Mistakes happen; no one is perfect. While no one wants to make mistakes, and sometimes they can be costly ones, it is important to be able to accept responsibility and not to look for someone else to blame.

Learn to examine what went wrong and how to prevent it from ever happening again, and move on. This process moves toward healing and finding solutions. In order for this to happen, however, you must be able to accept responsibility for the error as well as for finding a solution or correction. This is an uncomfortable situation for everyone, and not all people are able to do this. Consider carefully how you would react and whether this is something you could learn to do. If you always look to blame someone else for your mistakes, or don't believe you ever make mistakes, then perhaps health care is not the career choice for you.

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