Tears rolled down my face as I came across an article written 2 years ago. A veteran pediatric nurse took her own life several months after administering a fatal overdose of an electrolyte to an infant. After investigations and undisclosed reasons, the hospital terminated the nurse’s employment after 27 years of service and dedication to the profession she truly loved.
To further satisfy the state licensing disciplinary actions, she agreed to pay a fine and undergo a 4-year probationary period. She would be supervised at any future nursing job when she gave medication. She even successfully completed a course to qualify as a flight nurse. Yet countless efforts did not produce any job offers, increasing her despair and isolation. A friend said, “She cried for weeks. Not just because she lost her job; she lost a child.”
No one knows all the details that led to the nurse taking her own life. The reality is, the healthcare industry, I believe, is not set up to provide personal, psychological, and social support to the “second victim” of medication errors. The first victims are the patients who were harmed and their families. Nurses are the providers of care and support for patients. But who supports and advocates for nurses?
Nursing, as noble as this profession may be, can also be a lion’s den. When mistakes happen, we are urged to “write it up,” appear in front of a committee, get judged, and God only knows what else. Then, labeled as “incompetent,” an unseen force can immediately make the second victim even terrified to go back to work, adding to the feeling of desolation.
My heart goes out to the family of the child. I am a mother, and I cannot even imagine or do not want to imagine how it would make me feel. I don’t even have words to describe it right now as I write. My only hope is that the family was able to and continues to find the strength to overcome their tragedy.
My heart also goes out to my fellow nurse who must have felt so alone — the emotions she went through, and the heartbreaking decision she made. After all the years of dedication to nursing, no one was able to provide her with accessible and effective support when she needed it most.
As the culture of patient safety continue to be a focus in the healthcare scene, the culture of isolation and abandonment of the second victims need to stop. Nurses are morally and ethically obligated to provide care for patients regardless of their social status. We are also equally obligated to protect and nurture our fellow nurses who become the second victims.
Supporting each other is vital while we maneuver through this highly stressful profession we chose to dedicate our lives to. We can achieve this by giving fair judgment to second victims and realizing that their intentions are good. They deserve respect and should not be ostracized for human imperfection. Instead, we should understand the psychological impact of medical errors to all the victims involved. In doing so, we can make referrals to professional support services uniquely tailored to this kind of situation.
Finally, in order to avoid future occurrences of fatal errors, we need to realize that there is a potential for growth. We can start by learning from our mistakes and watching out for each other’s safety.
Chiqui Raveloski is a Filipino nurse practicing in the USA. She currently works as an ER Nurse Case Manager while still doing bedside nursing in a telemetry unit. She blogs about her Filipino culture, personal nursing experiences, and life as a type 1 diabetic for 40+ years at www.bahalananurseblog.com.