3 Tips for Teaching Nursing Students Medication Administration

Med administration mistakes are the most common errors for new nurses

That’s why teaching nursing students medication administration occupies a lot of real estate in faculty discussions, studies, and journal articles. This article presents some of the more promising tips and emerging practices to help nursing students master this challenging skill.

Without further ado, here are three tips for teaching nursing students med administration. 

Watch a free workshop recording of “Ready for Practice: Teaching Med Administration to Nursing Students

1. Get the Math Right

Bad math can be fatal in nursing. That’s why dosage was the number one concern among hundreds of nurse educators in a recent workshop on med administration. It’s also why “revisiting math skills” is one of the three recommendations in an excellent article about improvements for teaching nursing students medication administration. 

How can nursing educators ensure their students get the math right? Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Require nursing students to ace a dosage test to qualify for clinical experiences. 
  • Start early, and consistently include dosage calculations in case studies, skills labs, simulations, and clinical experiences. 
  • Offer math tutoring—especially outside of your nursing program
  • Create a med error report form to help students reflect on and correct their mistakes

2. Incorporate Technology Aids Into Simulation

The next two sections discuss simulation. Over the past decade, simulation has proven that it’s worth its weight in gold for nursing education, so any list of tips for med administration should include simulation advice.  

Since it’s likely that you are already using simulation labs, the nuggets for these next two sections focus on how you set it up.

First up is technology. What technology are you incorporating into simulation? 

If Possible, Integrate Technologies Like EMRs

In an increasingly digital world, tasks like med administration merge with new healthcare technology. This includes EMRs and medication fail-safe technology like barcode medication administration (BCMA). Studies show that both of these technologies reduce med errors overall, but when adding technology to any process, new types of errors can occur. 

This thought process led a nursing program to include an automated medicine dispensing system in their skills lab. They hoped this technology aid would improve nursing students’ med administration performance, get them familiar with the technology, and increase self-efficacy. 

As a true mark of success, every nursing student who participated in the survey agreed that the program should continue using this technology in future courses. And a more recent study from 2021 also remarked on the benefits of integrating technology into simulations.  

Get Creative 

Like med administration itself, this tip is complicated. The expense, the difficulty of accessing this kind of software or tools, and the crazy pace of technology improvements limit how much nursing programs can add technology into their simulations. 

This means you may need to get creative. In a recent workshop on teaching nursing students medication administration, Dr. Marsha Cannon explained how her students at the University of West Alabama must enter information into an EMR system as part of their med administration check-off. 

And if high-fidelity resources for students remain scarce, students can practice using these technologies in low-fidelity simulations. For example, create a video assignment where a student can record themselves practicing a task in an EMR system, explain what they’re doing as they do it, and later have the instructor provide feedback.

3. Create Messy Simulation Scenarios

Adding technology is not the only way to mix things up. A few years ago, a study illustrated what practicing nurses experience every day: that “medication administration [is] not a linear process.” Missing vital information and frequent interruptions by colleagues make the whole process messy and complex. 

This fact leads the study to conclude that the neat five-rights framework, which is the go-to for teaching med administration, inadequately prepares nursing students for clinical experiences. 

What does this mean? Well, it’s tempting to create simulations that fit neatly into the five-rights you’ve been teaching nursing students. It’s what you’ve been teaching them and how you’ve been structuring that information. But to really prepare your students, your med administration simulations should replicate the complexity they’ll encounter in their clinical experiences. 

(Worried about how you can systematically create chaos in your med administration simulations? Check out the example and positive results outlined in this study, “Calm to Chaos.”)

Improving Nursing Students’ Medication Administration

There you have it. Ideas for preventing dosage miscalculations and tips for creating simulation experiences that better prepare students for clinical success. 

These three tips won’t solve the complex and perennial problem of medication errors for new nurses, but these techniques can lower the number of errors. And any decrease in medication errors is a win-win-win for nursing educators, the healthcare profession, and patients.

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