The Freedom That Comes When Nurses Accept We Are Not Perfect

It’s absolutely preposterous to expect perfection 24/7 from people. This demand becomes even more unrealistic when we are overwhelmed and lack the time and resources to attend to all that is required of us. It’s a challenge faced by everyone from flight attendants, bank tellers, and news reporters. For Nurses, the stakes are higher and the consequences can be catastrophic when things go wrong.

I had the honor of facilitating a workshop for Nurses to reflect on exactly this challenge. The challenge is that sometimes, despite our best efforts, we don’t achieve desirable outcomes. In this safe container, Nurses connected deeply with each other in a cherished space.

As each Nurse shared their experience, such as mislabeling a specimen, administering the wrong medication or turning away from a necessary yet difficult patient conversation regarding end of life issues, something happened. With each brave sharing, we grew deeper in connection. 

Just to be totally clear, these Nurses were very competent, compassionate Nurses. I have never met a Nurse that intended to create harm. When Nurses make mistakes, we feel awful and most of the time we don’t share it with anyone. Why? Because we are expected to be perfect and we may not feel safe enough to share especially in a culture rampant with horizontal violence and bullying.


As the facilitator, I was very clear on establishing confidentiality and the safety of the group. I had conversations with Nurses prior to the workshop to assess their receptivity, ability to self reflect and ability to foster non-judgment. I set the stage by plunging deeply into my vulnerability and sharing my stories. I have been a Nurse for over twenty-five years and I have done a lot of things right, saved many lives, advocated for a peaceful death for others and I’ve also made mistakes. That’s because I am a human being, just like all Nurses.

 When we share our stories with people who listen from a place of understanding, the shame we carry loses the fight. When we keep our mouths shut and carry the burden by ourselves, our inner critic ignites our self-judgments like wild fire and we get burned.  It’s not realistic to be perfect 24/7. This doesn’t mean you wing it at work. Not at all. I encourage you to review your Five Rights with medication administration, act as a patient advocate, question your orders, know why you are doing what you are doing and as Mary Bylone says, use your bold voice.

 When at the end of the day despite your best efforts, things didn’t go right, do not hide in shame. Don’t stay quiet. Find a colleague with whom you feel safe enough to talk to and reflect on your intention. You are more than your actions. You are not your mistake. What could you learn from this situation? How can we hold the negative experience equally with all of the positive experiences? Reflect and let it go.  I plan to do another retreat incorporating this work for a select group of Nurses who are willing to look within, face their imperfections, share vulnerably and create safety by holding confidentiality for other Nurses. If you are interested in this transforming work, email me at and we can see if this is the right workshop for you.





The “S” Word We Never Talk About In Nursing

No, not the 4-letter word. We talk about that too much; It’s the 5 letter word: SHAME. As a profession predominantly made up of women who care for people professionally and personally, we want people to like us. Sometimes in order to sustain that positive image, we keep our shameful secrets hidden from those that might judge us.

Personal issues such as divorce, children failing school or family suicide can trigger shame when we can’t sustain the image we attempt to create. Narcotic access has created some issues for Nurses. I have worked with at least three Nurses who have lost their nursing license (at least temporarily) for stealing drugs and/or using during work hours. I’ve known other Nurses who have lost their license from driving under the influence of alcohol.

Brene Brown has done a tremendous amount of research studying shame. One of the most important things she has said is that “vulnerability is NOT weakness”. Think back to a time when you had a difficult conversation and were vulnerable, perhaps in a romantic or personal relationship. It takes a lot of courage to drop our guard, be exposed, let go of control and be open to not knowing what comes next. That is not weakness. We have a choice, we can chose silence and go down the self harm route of depression, anxiety, and addiction or we can open up and talk about it so it loses its powerful hold over us.

If you or someone you know is going through a difficult experience, find someone who creates safety to be comfortable to share the experience with. If you are the listener, be just that – a listener. Notice the judgments come up and let them go so that you can bring empathy to help the healing process. For more about  Brene Brown, check out her Ted talk on vulnerability.