Toward a theory of self-reconciliation following mistakes in nursing practice

J Nurs Scholarsh. 2007;39(2):177-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.2007.00164.x.


Purpose: To explore nurses' responses to making mistakes in hospital-based practice in the US.

Methods: A grounded theory approach was used to explore the process that occurs after nurses perceive that they have made mistakes in practice. Theoretical sampling was used and data were collected until saturation occurred. Ten participants, who were registered nurses, described 17 personal mistakes. The mistakes they described occurred in hospitals. All participants were practicing nursing either in hospitals or in other work settings.

Findings: A process of "Self-Reconciliation After Making Mistakes in Hospital Practice" was identified, with four distinct categories: reality hitting, weighing in, acting, and reconciling. The core category was reconciliation of the self, personally and professionally.

Conclusions: This research was a first step toward the development of a theory of mistake making in nursing practice. This response to making mistakes is consistent with previous research and is related to cognitive dissonance theory. The responses to mistakes varied from less healthy responses of blaming and silence to healthier responses that included disclosure, apologizing, and making amends. Further research to develop the theory and to determine helpful interventions is suggested.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Female
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Hospitals, Community
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors* / nursing
  • Medical Errors* / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Professional Competence
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rationalization
  • Reality Testing
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Shame
  • Surveys and Questionnaires