Here come brand-new nurses with their brand-new scrubs, clipboards, nursing shoes, and stethoscopes, eager to start the adventure as a nurse in the real world of nursing. Securing the very first job as a registered nurse is one of the most exciting—but also terrifying—events that any new graduate nurse experiences. No more simulation labs and clinicals, but real lives (and your license) are at stake. A recent report suggests that nearly 30% of new graduate nurses leave their job within the first year. You had been asking yourself if you would survive the nursing school. Now, you have to ask yourself this question: Am I going to survive the first year as a nurse? Here are some real-life tips from one new graduate nurse who just survived the first year working as a bedside nurse to another.
Cherish Your Orientation Period
New graduate nurse residency programs, such as Transition to Practice programs, are excellent opportunities to receive extended orientation periods, labs, and classes. It is true that often you may feel like you are back in school again with extended orientation time. However, it is critical for new graduate nurses to take this opportunity to learn, practice, and experience as much as they can during this period because once the orientation is over, you will be on your own without preceptors to back you up. After the first couple of shifts on your own, you may miss the orientation days.
When in Doubt, Ask!
The biggest mistake that a new graduate nurse can make is to assume things. “There is no such thing as a stupid question. We are not worried about new nurses asking endless questions regardless of the content, but we will be worried if a new graduate nurse has no questions,” says Jo Burney, who has more than 20 years of bedside nursing experience and frequently mentors and precepts new graduate nurses. Asking questions doesn’t make you look like an incompetent nurse at all. Providing inadequate, or unsafe, care because you weren’t sure what to do but didn’t ask questions about it will make you not only incompetent but also a reckless nurse.
Find Out the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Nurses are only human. There are experienced nurses who are excellent teachers and mentors to new nurses professionally and personally. However, there are also experienced nurses who have nothing to offer to you, meaning that they don’t want to teach you and you probably don’t want to learn anything from them either. New graduate nurses should be able spot these different types of nurses. If you haven’t figured it out on your own, ask your preceptor at the end of your orientation for a list of nurses who can be great resources around the unit.
Nursing school may be over, but the education continues. It is highly encouraged to study about the specialty of nursing that you are in, such as the common patient populations, diagnoses, medications, pathophysiologies, protocols, and policies. You may even consider opening the textbook that you said you would never open again after nursing school is over! Do so when you have downtime at work if you can’t make time outside of your work. Having the knowledge behind the nursing tasks you do will increase your ability to critically think and analyze the cases.
Be Personable, but Stay Away From the Drama
You don’t have to be best friends with your coworkers, but it doesn’t hurt to leave a good impression and to get along with them. Introduce yourself to the other nurses and nursing assistants and remember their names. Smile and greet! Simple and small courteous actions will make a difference. If it seems appropriate, you can also share personal things such as family and pets. You want to treat each nurse as an individual rather than just another nurse who happens to be working the same shift as you. However, never gossip or badmouth other nurses even if everyone else is talking and gossiping about a certain person in front of you.
It’s All About Listening
Listen to your patients and their family members. Listen to other nurses, nursing assistants, secretaries, providers, social workers, and other interdisciplinary team members. You can always learn something from anybody, whether it is how to transfer phone calls or how to program an IV pump, as long as you keep your ears and minds wide open for all the million things that you have to remember as a new graduate nurse.
The first year as a new graduate nurse will pass in the blink of an eye, and you will become a novice nurse who is somewhat comfortable but is still a little nervous with unfamiliar cases and emergent situations. You will be so very proud with that one year of bedside nursing experience under your belt, but the journey to become an experienced nurse will always continue.