Reflective accounts

Situation awareness

A CPD article improved Lucy Ward’s understanding of situation awareness and its importance in patient safety
hospital nurse

A CPD article improved Lucy Wards understanding of situation awareness and its importance in patient safety

What was the nature of the CPD activity, practice-related feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The CPD article discussed situation awareness, which refers to the ways people collect (perceive), interpret (comprehend) and use information and make decisions (projection).

What did you learn from the CPD activity, feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The article described situation awareness as people noticing what is happening around them, working out what the information they are noticing means, and using that information to plan required actions or decisions. I was interested to read that healthcare has been slow to embrace the role of non-technical skills such as situation

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A CPD article improved Lucy Ward’s understanding of situation awareness and its importance in patient safety


It is important to understand how the things happening around you affect what you do  Photo: SPL

What was the nature of the CPD activity, practice-related feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The CPD article discussed situation awareness, which refers to the ways people collect (perceive), interpret (comprehend) and use information and make decisions (projection).

What did you learn from the CPD activity, feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The article described situation awareness as people noticing what is happening around them, working out what the information they are noticing means, and using that information to plan required actions or decisions. I was interested to read that healthcare has been slow to embrace the role of non-technical skills such as situation awareness, because I feel this is something I do regularly in my practice.

The article outlined three levels of situation awareness: perception of elements in the environment, comprehension of the current situation and projection of future status. The process of situation awareness is dynamic and can move between each of the three levels. Situation awareness can be influenced by context, individual, task, and cognitive factors, and understanding these factors is crucial to minimising the risk of errors.

I learned that situation awareness can be improved by using the ‘three-bucket’ model to examine the aspects of the self, context and task that might negatively affect situation awareness and increase the likelihood of errors. Other strategies to improve situation awareness include re-evaluating task sequences after interruptions, checklists, checking in with other team members, huddles and simulation.

How did you change or improve your practice?

In my practice, I have encountered many of the factors that can affect situation awareness, particularly distractions and interruptions, and I intend to take steps to mitigate the effects of these factors.

I am now aware that individual factors, such as fatigue and level of experience, may affect the performance of staff. I will take this into account when I write the off-duty rota,
for example by ensuring that staff members do not work three consecutive long days and take all their annual leave.

Staff on the ward where I work have made an effort to ‘check in’ with other team members regularly, which the article stated, can improve situation awareness. This is particularly important because the handover from the early shift to the late shift used to provide checking in time, but the change in shift patterns to long days has meant this time has been lost.

I have gained understanding of the importance of being self-aware, for example by noticing if I feel fatigued or stressed. I am also more aware of the strategies I can implement to improve situation awareness and patient safety, and I feel more confident discussing these with my colleagues.

How is this relevant to the Code? Select one or more themes: Prioritise people, Practise effectively, Preserve safety, Promote professionalism and trust

The article is relevant to the theme of preserving safety, because enhancing situation awareness can reduce the risk of critical situations developing. Being aware of factors that may affect situation awareness can reduce risk and error.

The article is relevant to the theme of practising effectively, because understanding situation awareness can enable nurses to maintain the knowledge and skills necessary for safe and effective practice.

Lucy Ward is a sister at University Hospital Southampton


This reflective account is based on NS840 Gluyas H, Harris S-J (2016) Understanding situation awareness and its importance in patient safety. Nursing Standard. 30, 34, 50-58

These questions are the same as those on the NMC templates that UK nurses and midwives must use for revalidation

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