Coming Back From the Brink

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

Arlene was let go from her job because she made a medication error. When it happened, she was exhausted from working overtime and rushing to finish up before going home. Her patient wasn’t harmed, but her employer had a rigid medication error policy, so she was let go. Nothing like this — the error or the firing — had ever happened to her.

By the time she got in touch with me, Arlene had been unemployed for four months, and her panic was escalating as each day passed.

“My career is over,” she said. “I’m embararassed, and I’ve completely lost my confidence. I cannot believe this happened to me. Who would ever hire me again? Can you help me find something outside of nursing?”

She needed to gain some perspective on her situation and manage her stress. So I encouraged her to get a massage and spend a day doing something fun she hadn’t done for a while. It wasn’t easy to convince her, because she was worried about money and finding a new job, but it was a necessary step to help her regain focus and clarity.

I also suggested that she volunteer somewhere healthcare-related while we formed a plan. Volunteering would give her days some structure and purpose, get her mind off her troubles, and keep her engaged in healthcare. Because volunteering is less stressful than employment, it would also help her regain her confidence. She reluctantly started volunteering at a local blood bank a few hours each week.

We worked together to identify a network of friends and colleagues she could contact for help and support in her job search.

Arlene was embarrassed about telling anyone what happened, but we worked out a script so she would be prepared with what to say. She contacted some former coworkers, physicians, and supervisors she had at previous positions. She explained that she was looking for work and briefly told them what had happened. She garnered more support and encouragement from these folks than she had anticipated, which made her feel better.

Arlene was also afraid of interviewing. “What do I say when they ask me why I left my last job? What will my previous employer say about me?” she wondered.

I told Arlene she should be honest but keep the explanation brief. I encouraged her to say something like, “I was let go from my last job because of a medication error. My patient wasn’t harmed, but my former employer had a strict policy about this. I was tired from working overtime and learned a hard lesson. I assure you this never happened before, and I will never let it happen again.”

So she wouldn’t get choked up when she talked about it, Arlene rehearsed her response in front of friends and family members and in the mirror. Once she became comfortable with her explanation, she ventured out on a few interviews. Her networking contacts paid off, and a former supervisor referred her to an endoscopy lab. Because this colleague could vouch for her character and clinical acumen, the employer was willing to hire her.

After working in endoscopy for more than a year, Arlene is content.

“I am grateful to have regained my stride in nursing. I know myself better now, including my limitations, and am a stronger person — and nurse — because of what has happened.”

Copyright ( All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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