Nurses: Being your Biggest (and Best) Critic

May 2, 2018
Charis Anderson, RN

Criticism is great. The constructive kind, that is. Constructive criticism is important for growth, quality improvement, patient safety, healthy relationships – you name it! Without this kind of positive feedback, collaboration is stifled and growth is stunted on personal and team levels.

Destructive criticism fuels conflict and “make things personal.” It is how we tear others down and elevate ourselves above others, creating tension and discouragement so that bitterness replaces trust, and fear grows in place of empowerment, shutting down important lines of communication.

As a Nurse, You Must Balance Different Forms of Criticisms

What I did not realize before I entered nursing school is that these ideas apply to the way that I talk to myself:

“Charis, seriously? You couldn’t remember the mechanism of action for that medication when your patient asked? You went over that four times this week.”
“You told that patient you would be back to change their sheets over thirty minutes ago. If you can’t remember to do that, how will you remember more important things later?”
“Obviously that joke wasn’t funny, so maybe just leave humor out of it next time.”

Destructive criticism fuels conflicts and makes things personal? Yep. This kind of self-talk can cause me to feel conflicted about everything from my personality to whether I’ve picked a career that I can succeed in.

When I speak this way to myself, I’m telling myself that I, as a person, am unable to do what I’ve set out to do because I wasn’t perfect on my first try – I must be the problem (or that my sense of humor should be shut down because it was lost on one person).

Have you ever experienced this? It hurts just as much when it comes from my own mind as when it comes from someone else’s mouth.

“The difference is that I can’t change what someone else says – I can only change the way that I think.”

While it is not easy to make this shift in mindset, it is crucial in the world of nursing (or any other team-based setting). As a nursing new grad, I have a limited ability to think critically, and I can grow in this regard through the suggestions and advice of those around me. Collaboration allows me to consider multiple different perspectives in order to give the best care to my patients and potentially avoid costly oversights.

My time management skills are present, but I can learn from constructive feedback offered by more experienced nurses in order to have a more balanced approach to each subsequent shift. Rather than feeling shame for forgetting something or “always having to ask questions” and apologizing for this, I can recognize that I am in a space where I need the support of others in my learning and growth.

I can find thankfulness for the eagerness of my coworkers to help me, and give myself credit for being brave enough to ask a question that might seem obvious to someone with more experience. It reflects well to ask the questions I need to, and it is important for safety and quality of care.

Practice Providing Encouragement and Constructive Criticism

Furthermore, if I make a practice of providing encouragement and constructive criticisms, when needed, to others, why do I not do the same for myself?

“Charis, you can always look that medication up again. You’re brand-new to this and there are many medications to learn about. You’ll get there if you stay persistent!”
“It’s ok to forget things sometimes. In the case of those sheets, they were not your highest priority (yay you for prioritizing!), and you eventually remembered. How awesome was that family for being so understanding? Remember, you have a lot of room to grow, but you WILL grow.”
“Be yourself.”
“Don’t waste your energy worrying about what others will think about you.”

By reminding myself of what is true, grounding myself in reality, and encouraging myself to keep trying, I give myself a second chance. I can grow because negative thoughts don’t stifle me. I can become a better nurse because fear doesn’t cripple me.

I can take care of myself when harsh words fly toward me. Over the course of my journey through nursing school, I have grown to give myself the same benefit-of-the-doubt that I give to others. I have learned to support and collaborate with myself rather than trying to change myself.

Ultimately, I have learned to thrive in resilience, patience, and curiosity because I can see every opportunity as a chance to grow rather than a failure which demonstrates inability.

It’s good to be my own critic… as long as I’m my own best critic.