Who cares for the caretaker?

There’s more than one reason why we often repeat the expression ”patient safety first”. However, patients are not the only ones vulnerable in the healthcare system. One group that we feel is largely overseen are the so called ”second victims” nurses, doctors and pharmacists with great responsibilities in their everyday lives. 

When a medical error is made, our primary concern is always the patient. If the given medication has the wrong dosage or has been tampered with on its route to the receiver, it can cause everything from zero response to serious damage or even death.

The latter is of course a worst case scenario but the sad truth is it’s far from uncommon. When a patient responds badly to or dies from a medication, caretakers often blame themselves and in that become second victims of the tragedy. Stress symptoms, long time depression or even suicide —the trauma it causes can be severe.

In a recent article in The Pharmaceutical Journal, Ross Ferguson discusses the issue with dealing with and overcoming a mistake at a workplace such as a hospital. A task that is sometimes overwhelming:

In 2011, a nurse in Seattle, Canada, with 27 yearsexperience, took her own life a few months after making a calculation error that led to an overdose of calcium chloride causing the death of a critically ill infant. In this case, once the error was spotted, the nurse was immediately escorted off the premises and later lost her job.

From Ferguson’s examples — and numerous reports from hospital staff around the world — we’re safe to say that we have a long way to go when it comes to providing the right compassionate support after a mistake has been made. Healthcare is supposed to be about helping our fellow humans, no matter if they’re lying in a hospital bed or wearing scrubs. Or as Ferguson puts it:

“While we have an obligation to help prevent errors and learn from them, we also need think about how we can support our colleagues emotionally and professionally when the worst happens.”


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