Top Five Tips for New Nurses
I started my first job as a nurse in October 2017. I know what you’re thinking, “Kirsten, that wasn’t that long ago! You’re still a new nurse.” And you’re right! I am still so new in my career. I'm still learning and growing so much as a nurse. I don’t have the years of skill and confidence built up from nursing yet. What I do know is what it feels like to be a brand new nurse. I can really relate to new nurses because I was just one myself. I know what it feels like to stride out of nursing school with your shiny stethoscope and your new “RN” letters behind your name, ready to burst into hospitals and save all the patients. It’s exciting! And terrifying. In nursing school, if you mess up a mock emergency situation, you get a do-over. In a real hospital emergency, there are no do-overs.
As overwhelming as starting your new nursing career can be, you CAN do it! No one walks into a unit on day one having it all figured out. Every nursing friend I have talks about how much time it took to start to feel comfortable in their role. It does take time, and that is so normal. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve rounded up the most important lessons I’ve learned from my time as a new nurse that I wish I had known going into it.
1. Be Patient
Starting any new job takes time to adjust. Nursing is no exception. It is so important to be patient with yourself and show yourself grace, not only in the hospital setting, but outside it as well. If you are doing shift work (12.5 hours a day), that takes time to get used to. I remember my first few weeks I was baffled at how long and slow the 12 hours seemed to go by. Not because I was bored at work, but because I just was not used to being at work for that long. Now that I’m used to it, a 12-hour shift feels normal, and sometimes even flies by. The same can be said about working night shift. I am a sleeper, and I like to have my 8 hours. I’m also a very routine person, so switching back and forth between sleeping during the night and during the day was a horrible thought. I never thought I could get used to working night shift, but now I sometimes prefer it! However, it took a lot of time and trial and error to figure out how my body functions best working night shift.
Now, the clinical aspect. As much as you learned in nursing school, as many clinical rotations you had, you won’t be fully prepared for the things you will see and the things you will be asked when you are a nurse. And that is OKAY. No one expects you to have it all figured out. In fact, it’s concerning when new nurses come in acting like they aren't nervous at all. It’s going to take time. Be patient. You’re doing great.
2. Be a Team Player
This is something I can’t stress enough. Help your coworkers!! Plan for the person who's shift is after you. Instead of thinking “what all do I have to complete for my shift” think “what can I do for this patient that can help the oncoming shift nurse” While you’ll probably be overwhelmed initially with your own workload, don’t stress too much about the others at the beginning. Start small. If you have downtime, ask your coworkers what you can do to help them. If you see someone drowning in work, save them. Even something as small as “hey I’m getting a coffee, can I bring you one?” can be so appreciated. As you get more confident over the months, think ahead! Is there something that can be done on your shift that would benefit both the patient and the shift nurse following you? Do it! You’ll find yourself growing into a better nurse that way, and your patients and your staff will appreciate you for it.
3. Ask Questions
Yes, you just finished nursing school. That does not mean you know everything there is to know about nursing. Nurses who have been doing this for 25+ years don’t know everything about nursing. We are all learning new things all the time! Don’t feel like you have to come in knowing it all. You are new to this area of nursing, new to this unit, new to being an RN. Ask questions!! Nurses are much more concerned about a new grad who doesn’t ask anything than a nurse who asks several questions. Never fake knowledge, you are just putting yourself and your patients at risk. No one will judge you for not knowing something, and if they do, shame on them! Nurses need to lift one another up and help each other be better. Think about the little things and the big things and ask away.
4. Work HARD
Okay, I know this one sounds obvious, but it’s true! Lazy nursing stands out. I wish I would have been better at this initially. If you’ve read my previous posts, you may know that the end of nursing school was a hard time for me. I was struggling with grief and fatigue, and as excited as I was to be a NICU nurse, I was still unsure about hospitals. I had a difficult time adjusting to shift work and I didn’t know if I was cut out to be a nurse. Thankfully, one day it clicked for me that I DO have what it takes. I CAN handle hospitals. I grew to love being a nurse and I loved (still do) caring for babies. I wanted to learn more, I wanted to work harder, I wanted to do more for my babies. You will have good days and bad days as a nurse, but I promise you there is no better feeling than walking out of a shift knowing you went above and beyond for your patient.
5. Stand Up for Yourself
This can be hard for any person in a new career or starting a new job, but I have found it's so important. Just last week I had a meeting with my boss because I had been put into an unsafe position I didn’t feel comfortable about. And guess what? She couldn’t have been kinder or more supportive, and I left so happy I had spoken up. Working in health care, you may face times where you are being overworked, your unit is understaffed, and you find yourself with an unsafe or inappropriate assignment. Speak up! Have a conversation with your charge nurse. These situations can be unsafe for both you and your patients. You worked hard for your license - protect it! If you are uncomfortable with a certain assignment, it is not worth putting your patient in danger. Your charge nurse is there to support you, so express your concerns.
You also may face situations where people are impatient with you because you are new. Ignore them. You need to learn and it is better to do something slow and correct than quick and wrong. I had a nurse practitioner say rude things both to my face and behind my back when I first started working because I was in a situation I hadn’t been in before, and I was moving too slow for her liking. I took a deep breath and said to her, “I’m new and I’m still learning, so I’m going to need you to show me some grace.” Sometimes people need this reminder. They were new once too, it’s okay to stand up for yourself.
I hope any new nurses out there find this useful. You are going to be great! Nursing is so rewarding, and before you know it you won’t be the new nurse anymore. People will come to YOU with questions. So go out there and put that shiny new stethoscope to use!!