Surviving the First Year as a Nurse: I Got My First Job as a RN, Now What?

Surviving the First Year as a Nurse: I Got My First Job as a RN, Now What?

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.

Nursing Tip of the Day!

Nursing Tip of the Day!

Hi, everyone! Some readers may be familiar with the phrase, “Be kind, and please rewind”. But, for those that are not acquainted with that saying, during the ancient times of VHS usage, rental stores requested that customers rewound the VHS cassette prior to it being returned. Seemingly, I know that you are wondering how that saying relates to the topic of nursing. So, I will get straight to the point. At the winding down of your shift, please replace the maintenance IV fluid if it is low. Here is my spin on the popular catchphrase, “ Be kind, and please replace the maintenance fluid if it is almost empty. The oncoming nurse will greatly appreciate the gift.”


As a nurse working in an inpatient setting, you may encounter the opposite. For example, during a hand-off report, I may receive the page, “Ashley, room #732’s IV pump is beeping, and it is saying that the infusion is complete.” Of course, I will hurry down to the room to stop the beeping and determine which  IV fluid has infused. Upon arrival, I will discover that it is the maintenance fluid, and the bag is completely barren. Like so dry, it should have been changed 30 minutes earlier. Although, I am now accountable for this patient’s care, the off-going nurse should have anticipated and prepared for this event. Not only is it courteous, but also it illustrates to the patient and your colleagues that you are attentive and a go-getter.


As a new nurse, my preceptor bestowed miniature trinkets of wisdom such as, “Ashley, strive to be early when providing all aspects of nursing care. So, if something unforeseen happens, the likelihood of you being late is low.” Also, she expressed that nursing care is ongoing. But, nurses must strive towards completing all of their duties and minimize the number of uncompleted tasks for the oncoming nurse. First, by doing this, you are limiting potential breakdowns in patient care. Second, you will make the oncoming nurse happy because you are not adding to their plate. All in all, every shift, strive to be a go-getter. Most importantly, before the end of your shift, heed these words, “Be kind, and please replace the maintenance fluid if it is almost empty. The oncoming nurse will greatly appreciate the gift.”


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Pearls of Wisdom for the New Graduate Nurse

Pearls of Wisdom for the New Graduate Nurse

As a new graduate nurse, I had tremendous mentors that directed my path to success. Oftentimes, they imparted priceless trinkets of nursing knowledge that shaped me into becoming a better nurse, and I am delighted to pass along their insight. Without question, Pearl Uhomba, BSN, RN and Yolanda Ferguson, BSN, RN were beacons of light throughout my first year.  These extraordinary leaders in the nursing profession taught this fledgling to arrive to work at least 30 minutes prior to clocking in. I understand that this sounds very intense, but there’s a method behind the madness:

  •  You can get a feel of the atmosphere.
    • By arriving early, you can visualize whether the shift is chaotic or smooth. As a result, you can appropriately adjust and prepare for your shift. Sometimes, you have to acclimate your mind and body to the madness. As a preparation routine, I would sit in the break room and listen to my favorite playlist. As one that has experienced the madness of the trenches and lived to tell the tale, I encourage you to develop a stress-busting plan that gets you through the difficult shifts.
  •   Your shift assignment is posted.
    •  You have scored a huge advantage. Now, you can delve into your patients’ charts with a fine-tooth comb. Also, you can prepare a well-developed strategy and layout of your patients’ goals and plan of care. Most importantly, during the shift change, you have successfully developed per se a colorless image of each patient that you will care for. Then, the off-going nurse will bring your image into Technicolor!
  • You have 1st round dibs on the BEST C.O.W., which is lovingly known as the Computer On Wheels.
    • For those that have endured the sometimes arduous task of selecting this essential and sometimes temperamental teammate, you really want a C.O.W that is agile and can turn on a dime without tipping over. Now, you won’t have the worst teammate that is infamous for shutting down during the most important medication administration.

Thanks for checking out this post! Check us out every day to gain the newest scoop in the nursing world. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I can’t wait to hear from you!