Math is important for nursing students because it is necessary to correctly measure and administer patient medication. Strong math skills help prevent medical errors by ensuring that patients receive the correct dosage of medication at the correct intervals.
Ratios and proportions are used by nurses to calculate how much medicine a patient should be given based on weight. Even in cases where doctors provide this information with the prescription, nurses must know how to read these ratios to understand the dosage information presented in the prescription.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that approximately 5 percent of patients hospitalized in the U.S. suffer from an adverse drug reaction. Not all of these reactions are preventable; events such as medication side effects and previously unknown allergic reactions cannot be predicted by doctors or nurses.
A medication error is a specific type of adverse drug reaction. Medication errors occur when a doctor, nurse or pharmacist incorrectly prescribes, dispenses or administers medication to a patient. An improper dosage of medicine given to a patient due to a math error made by a nurse would be considered a preventable medication error. Medications that require highly specific weight-based dosage, such as heparin, are at particularly high risk for medication errors.