Learning from errors in nursing practice

J Adv Nurs. 1997 Jul;26(1):111-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1997.1997026111.x.


Little attention is paid to the issue of errors in nursing practice. Staff are reluctant to discuss or publicize them. However, as clinical audit and quality management become more important and established in the health service, there is now a greater need to investigate and monitor the incidence of errors. The purpose of this study was to examine the causes and consequences of errors as well as the potential for errors to initiate changes in practice. One hundred and twenty-nine nurses answered a 22-item questionnaire relating to an error they had made. Nurses reported that the most common causes of errors were lack of knowledge or information, work overload, stressful atmosphere and lack of support from senior staff. Nurses were found to have recourse to a number of coping strategies in the aftermath of the error. Accepting responsibility and planful problem-solving were found to lead to positive changes in practice, whereas distancing and self-controlling strategies were associated with defensive changes, particularly with a tendency not to divulge the error. The findings also showed that errors had the potential to effect learning. The study suggests the need for staff to be encouraged to accept responsibility for their error within the framework of support. Strategies should be developed so that errors can be managed in a more constructive manner.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors* / psychology
  • Medical Errors* / statistics & numerical data
  • Nursing Care* / psychology
  • Nursing Care* / statistics & numerical data
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Responsibility
  • Surveys and Questionnaires