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Nurs Ethics. 2004 Nov;11(6):568-76.

Always having to say you're sorry: an ethical response to making mistakes in professional practice.

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William Jewell College, 50 College Hill, Liberty, MD 64068-1896, USA.


Efforts to decrease errors in health care are directed at prevention rather than at managing a situation when a mistake has occurred. Consequently, nurses and other health care providers may not know how to respond properly and may lack sufficient support to make a healthy recovery from the mental anguish and emotional suffering that often accompany making mistakes. This article explores the conceptualization of mistakes and the ethical response to making a mistake. There are three parts to an ethical response to error: disclosure, apology and amends. Honesty and humility are discussed as important virtues that facilitate coping and personal growth for the health care provider who is involved in mistakes. In conclusion, a healthy view of nursing practice and mistake making is one that prevents error but, when prevention is not possible, accepts fallibility as part of the human condition and achieves the best possible outcome for all.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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