Checklist, Please!

Christine Moffa, MS, RN, AJN clinical editor

It’s embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve either locked myself out of my apartment or arrived at work and realized I’d left either my wallet or cell phone at home. That is, until someone very close to me taught me to say, “wallet, keys, cell phone, Metrocard” before walking out the door. Little did he know he was using a very powerful tool, the checklist.

As part of my money-saving strategies this year, I’ve resorted to using the New York Public Library to support my reading habit, instead of going to the various megabookstores in my neighborhood (I always fall for the “buy-two-get-one-free” deal!). That’s why I’m late to the party for The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. After three months on hold, my turn finally came up—and boy was it worth the wait. There are so many great anecdotes about success stories (and some failures) of checklists—including patients surviving accidents and surgeries against all odds, averted airplane crashes, and well-orchestrated rock concerts—that it makes me want to start implementing checklists in every aspect of my life (including some at AJN). In fact, if I’d had a checklist for packing my bag for this weekend, I’d have remembered my flat iron, amongst other necessities. Now I’m forced to go the next 48 hours with serious frizz! 

My favorite part of the book, though, is that Gawande gives credit to nurses for being the originators of checklist usage in hospitals, citing vital sign charts, medication administration records (MARs), and care plans.

Checklists, it turns out, foster communication, which in turn leads to teamwork. Who knew? In this world of ever increasing complexity, there are so many details to focus on it’s easy for errors to happen. Often you have to focus on your own responsibilities and trust that your colleagues are taking care of theirs. The checklist brings us all back to the same page; if nobody can proceed until it’s confirmed that a particular task has been performed, we’re forced to check in with each other.

If you’d like to make a checklist of your own, you can visit Gawande’s  Web site and download a “Checklist for Checklists,” or see some examples of those used in the medical and aviation industries.

Do you have a favorite checklist that you find helpful either in your personal or professional life? Let us know about it.

Atul Gawande's "Checklist for Checklists"

Bookmark and Share

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Not Nurse Ratched June 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve always been a fan of lists. This is the second positive review I’ve heard of this book, so I just bought a copy and am looking forward to reading it…maybe I’ll have fodder for rebuttals for those who tease me about my lists!

  2. peggy mcdaniel June 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Great post! Air travel has become safer through the use of checklists, why not use them for healthcare? Errors in healthcare claim over 90,000 lives a year. That is equal to a large jet crashing every week… would YOU get on a plane knowing those odds? We don’t usually have much choice about going to the hospital. Get onboard with checklists, they are a great way to standardize, improve, and maintain better outcomes.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

%d bloggers like this: