"American students are among the worst mathematicians in the world," states Keay Davidson. In January 1989, the National Council reported "Three out of four Americans stop studying mathematics before completing career or job prerequisites . . . Thus universities, industry, and the armed forces are burdened by extensive and costly demands for remedial education."
Like other university students, nursing students are often unable to complete simple mathematical calculations. Therefore, safe administration of medications is at risk in nursing practice today.
Despite new instructional approaches such as dimensional analysis (called "distractional analysis" by some seasoned faculty members), students lack basic math concepts. They fail to recognize incorrect (unrealistic and unsafe) answers that shine up at them from their calculators. Many students, especially female students, have negative attitudes toward mathematics and little confidence in their ability to solve problems.
Faculty who enjoy mathematical calculations can do a lot to encourage students to solve problems and remove the accompanying fear of failure. Familiar activities such as sectioning a pie, preparing half a recipe, or calculating unit prices or miles per hour help students become aware of the abilities that they have to solve mathematical problems in the world around them.
Modules of a variety of actual clinical problems enable students to practice calculations at their own pace and repeatedly until they gain comfort and competence. As students complete calculations in actual nursing settings, they need, strong verbal reinforcement for correct solutions.
Pretesting students for early identification of mathematical problems, offering individual tutoring, and stressing the importance of mathematical calculations throughout nursing programs will add a crucial dimension of safety to clinical practice.