Career advice

The art of decision making

Mandy Day-Calder looks at ways to increase your confidence in your decision-making ability. 

Mandy Day-Calder looks at ways to increase your confidence in your decision-making ability

It is estimated that we make more than 35,000 conscious decisions every day. Many of these we take for granted, such as choosing what to wear.

decision making
Making a decision can be complex. Photo: iStock

We don’t consider this as complex, and the consequences of making a poor choice are minimal, but some of the clinical decisions you make as a nurse could literally have life or death implications.

Sometimes you will have time to consider the best course of action for your patient, but other times you will have to make instant clinical decisions.

Try not to compare yourself to colleagues as there are many different ways to approach decision making – the trick is to find out what works best for you so that you are able to make strong choices at all times. Ask yourself:

  • How confident are you in your clinical ability? To make an informed choice you must ensure your knowledge and skills are up-to-date. It is your responsibility to address any gaps you identify, so speak to your line manager about possible learning opportunities.
  • What helps you to remain focused and calm under pressure? It is impossible to think clearly if you are panicking, so try to work out – and put into practice – what helps you to concentrate and control stress. 
  • How would you rate your assertiveness skills? You may have to disseminate speedy or controversial decisions. Think about what enables you to communicate clearly and respond openly to any concerns or feedback. 
  • Are you looking after yourself? Even the most seasoned nurse won’t make level-headed decisions with a low blood sugar or if he or she is dehydrated. Try to make sure you take your breaks and maintain your fluid intake throughout your shift.
  • Do you trust your intuition? You may often get a gut feeling when something isn’t right, but it takes confidence to listen to yourself. Try to think of situations where you have followed your intuition and reflect on what went well and what didn’t. 


What to do if you make a poor decision

Nursing often involves weighing up the facts quickly in emotionally-charged situations. There is not always a clear right or wrong answer, and with the benefit of hindsight, you may wish you had made a different decision. 

Take time to reflect on the situation, either through a written account or a debrief with colleagues, and look back through your documentation and consider where you could, in future, make wiser choices.  

Always be open and honest – if you made a mistake, speak to the nurse in charge or a senior colleague. Instead of beating yourself up, look for ways to learn from the situation and improve both your clinical knowledge and decision making skills. 

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach 

This article is for subscribers only