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A Guide to Surviving the First Year of Nursing

A Guide to Surviving the First Year of Nursing

There are really no ways to describe all those feelings that a newly graduated nurse can feel.  From the pride of successfully reaching a goal to the excitement of landing that first nursing job and finally, the nervous jitters that come along with treating a patient for the first time as a full-fledged nurse.

Before starting that first job and certainly working that first shift, there is one thing that a new nurse can do to temper those emotions that may be running through their minds.  Find a mentor or a veteran nurse in the field who can provide a good clear picture of what nursing is all about. 

A mentor is defined as a trusted counselor or guide.  In other words, someone who can offer advice, provide guidance and an ear when it’s time to talk about career aspirations. Some of the questions that a newbie nurse should ask their mentor are:

  • What was learned in their few years of working as a nurse?
  • What tools to the mentors use to ensure success in their career
  • What were some of the mistakes that were made - how were they handled?

Finding a mentor and keeping an open mind can prevent new nurses who have the potential to grow into exceptional caregivers from walking away from a truly rewarding career because their nerves got the best of them.

No one knows it all

Part of a mentor’s role is to provide advice.  A big piece of advice that a new nurse may get is to avoid being a know it all.  No one likes a know it all, not patients, co-workers and especially not management. 

A new nurse can have a greater impact on their career by showcasing their knowledge on how to ask the right questions, how to conduct research and where to look to find answers.  This is also the nurse who is less likely to make mistakes and is more likely to become a valuable team player in the workplace.

Ask questions, any question at all

Everyone knows the old adage, there are no stupid questions.  Well, this is true.  Unfortunately, for many, there is a fear about asking the wrong question or too many questions.  Nurses should never be afraid to ask questions, no matter how silly it may seem. Remember, asking a question can save a life.

Put the textbook down

Any newly graduate can find themselves dealing with a situation that was not covered in their textbook or a case study.  That’s ok.  Nurses should not rely on textbook answers when caring for their patient.  All those case studies and textbooks that were used in school were not designed to provide exact step-by-step solutions to issues that might pop-up.  Instead, those were written to be used as examples of different ways to approach situations.

Listening with the eyes

Listening with the eyes can go a long way to ensuring success as a new nurse.  When interacting with others listen to what they are saying and pay attention to how they are saying it.  In other words, a nurse who looks strictly at a patient’s chart while asking their patient questions might miss a few subtle hints that something isn’t right.  Body language can say just as much if not more than words.

Slow down

Trying to impress fellow nurses and a new boss by rushing around attempting to be more productive is the perfect recipe for disaster.  Most newly graduated nurses, want to impress their new colleagues, employers, and patients.  It doesn’t matter how fast items are crossed off a To Do list if those items are not done well.  Another thing to remember is that the more a person rushes through a task, the more likely a mistake will be made.  Mistakes in nursing can have a significant impact on patients and their families.

Self-care is not just a fad

It’s easy to throw oneself into a new career.  A new career in nursing is particularly easy to get lost in.  However, one of the ways to be the best nurse possible and to reduce the potential for errors is to make sure that time is carved out for self-care. Trust fellow nurses to take over the patients care.   Remember to sleep, eat well and to switch off the nursing brain once in a while.  

Autonomy is a reality

Nursing students are used to being surrounded by like-minded classmates.  In a way, they can offer a circle of support during a shift and afterward.  Nursing students will often find themselves consulting with others before making a decision.  The big difference for new nurses is the sense of autonomy they may feel during their first few shifts.  They may even find it a little lonely at times.  It’s important to remember that they are not alone, no matter how it may feel. 

Embrace the change

Change can be exciting and fun but it can also be riddled with issues and anxieties.  As a newly graduated nurse, it’s important to expect change and lots of it.  Life as we know it will change significantly.  Instead of juggling a few nursing student shifts and school work suddenly, the need will be around juggling family life, nursing shifts and ‘adulting’ in general.  As a new nurse, it’s a lot easier to step into a new role if change and being able to handle it are considered to be part of the process. 

Be grateful

Be grateful for good health, be grateful for being employed and be grateful for being a part of a profession that helps people daily.  Being grateful, and humble too for that matter, makes it a lot easier to be compassionate and respectful to patients.  It’s not always easy to be grateful.  At times, nursing can feel like a thankless job and after working the night shift for a few days, it can be easier to covet more traditional 9 to 5 roles than being a nurse.  Try to put being grateful on a priority list.  Make it a part of the day to day activities.  An easy way to do this is to take a bit of time at the end of each shift to jot down a few things to be grateful for.  Read them before a shift or even in the middle of a shift, particularly a bad one. 

It’s not all peachy

There will be difficult weeks and there certainly will be difficult shifts, and don’t forget the difficult patients and their families.  Just because a nurse is having a bad day, shift or even a bad month doesn’t in any way mean that they are bad nurses.  It’s easy to get caught-up in comparison or replay the mistakes that were made over and over again in one’s mind. 

Remember that there is a reason for everything.  As soon as a nurse begins comparing themselves to others they are setting themselves up for failure and increasing the risk of accidents. 

This is when a mentor comes in handy.  Having someone to debrief with about a bad situation can provide clarity and often times, the realization that it’s in fact not that bad. 

Keeping these little nuggets of information top of mind can provide new nurses with strategies to become the best nurses that they can be.