7 Steps for Success as a New Nursing Grad

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated August 4, 2022
    Your first year as a new nursing graduate can be overwhelming. These seven steps can help ease your transition and raise your potential for success.
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    Your first year as a new nurse can be overwhelming, challenging, and may leave you feeling unqualified and inadequate. It’s not uncommon for new nurses to lack confidence in their ability and knowledge. But there are several strategies to help you adjust to a new career where you are responsible for other people’s lives.

    We share seven steps you can take as a new nursing graduate to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), find your first job, and create a strong foundation for your career development. After all, nursing isn’t just a job, it’s a passion.

    You’re a New Nursing Grad, Now What?

    You’ve graduated from a demanding undergraduate program. What’s next? You’ll need to find your first job, learn new skills, and fit in with a team of healthcare professionals. That’s a tall order for anyone.

    Following these seven steps can make the process easier and help you avoid common mistakes as a new nurse. You have the power to make your first year as a new nursing graduate less stressful and more successful.

    1. 1

      The Job Search

      When you’re applying for a new job, consider your career goals. During your nursing program, you likely developed a passion for caring for a particular patient population or disease. For example, if you want to work in cardiology you may find the cardiology unit requires nurses with at least one year of nursing experience.

      If cardiology is your end goal, you will want a job in a medical-surgical unit or postoperative unit to get the experience needed. New nursing school graduate jobs are also found in private practices, academic institutions, in-home care, and residential facilities.

      No matter where you’re seeking a job, it is possible to negotiate your nursing salary as a new nurse. But don’t forget that your salary is not the only thing you can negotiate. Especially when you’re working for a smaller facility or private practice, you can also negotiate more vacation or sick days, tuition reimbursement, or parental leave.

      For many, negotiation can be stressful and just a little bit scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

    2. 2

      The Work Environment

      Starting a new job is exciting and nerve-racking. New nurses often feel as if they’re getting their feet wet in a new career and drowning at the same time. Some of those feelings of being overwhelmed are related to adjusting to a new position and a new team.

      You may have heard the expression that nurses “eat their young,” which references how seasoned nurses sometimes bully new graduates. Combating both being overwhelmed and bullied at the same time can be a challenge. Yet there are strategies you can use to advocate for yourself as a new nurse.

      There are several reasons why nurses find it difficult to advocate for themselves. Many new nurses feel intimidated on their first job and may fear being fired. Yet, when you advocate for yourself, you are acting out of courage, which builds confidence as a new nurse and increases your control.

      People who do courageous acts often feel fear but do it anyway. New nurses who advocate for themselves are not fearless but have built skills that support their ability to effectively speak up without appearing pushy or aggressive.

      One of the best ways to deal with bullying is to address the behavior with the individual who is acting out. Bullies gain power from other people’s fear. If you do not feel confident approaching a bully, escalate the situation to your charge nurse or manager.

      Bullying in healthcare is not safe since patient care suffers when nurses cannot communicate well. If you are experiencing verbal abuse, threatening behavior, or a nurse who is sabotaging your work, this is bullying.

    3. 3

      Work-Life Balance

      In one cross-sectional 2018 survey of more than 50,000 registered nurses (RNs), researchers found that 31.5% of nurses left their employment because of nurse burnout. Another study during the COVID-19 pandemic found there were cellular biomarkers of nursing burnout, which included shortened telomere length that can lead to chronic disease and shorter lifespan.

      In other words, high stress and burnout have measurable effects on health. One of the primary strategies for avoiding and preventing burnout is effective management of a healthy work-life balance.

      In addition to the usual stressors at work and finding a healthy balance between work and life, new nursing graduates may also be questioning if they chose the right career and if their education was worth it. Even in Sweden, known for a balanced lifestyle, burnout was rising long before the pandemic started.

      Signs of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, reduced job performance, and overwhelming anxiety. You can help prevent burnout and create a better work-life balance by taking several steps.

      Self-care as a nurse is crucial in addition to managing stress as a nurse. This means eating a nutritious well-balanced diet, getting exercise and quality sleep, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and using stress management techniques at home. These may include connecting with friends and family, taking advantage of self-care products for nurses, journaling, prioritizing self-care, spending time with a pet, or using breathing techniques.

    4. 4

      Find a Mentor and Network

      In your first year as a new nursing graduate, you’re faced with learning new skills, gaining confidence, and trying to figure out what you want to do with your career. Some facilities have nurse mentoring programs for new graduates. However, this is not as common as it should be.

      Mentors are people who are willing to take on a new graduate nurse and show them the ropes. This includes not just the facility where they work, but also the steps they can take to expand their career. If your facility does not have a mentoring program, don’t be afraid to ask someone if they can help.

      A mentor is a seasoned nurse who can serve as a role model and advise you on your professional development. You are seeking a person who has active listening skills, is available to devote time to help you, is confident in their abilities, and has strong industry knowledge.

      There are many benefits to nurse mentorship. Your nurse mentor can help you develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. They can give you a perspective of the broader picture in your profession. You can find mentors at work, through professional nursing organizations, or by networking in nursing.

      The old adage that “it’s not what you know but who you know” rings true in healthcare as well. The people that you know and have a strong relationship with can help open the doors to new opportunities.

      Throughout your professional network, you may also find a mentor, gain perspective on your career advancement, or develop a long-lasting personal relationship.

    5. 5

      Get Feedback

      One of the hardest things to do as a new nurse is to get brutally honest feedback about your performance. This is the only kind of feedback that helps improve your clinical skills. There is a difference, however, between brutally honest and brutal.

      Experienced nurses may understand that honest feedback is essential, but it can be given in a way that is not mean or cruel. Seek an experienced nurse in your unit whose opinion you value and who has strong communication skills.

      Ask for feedback about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Ask for suggestions on how you can improve. The quicker you understand your weaknesses and strengths, the better your first year in nursing will be.

    6. 6

      Continuing Education and Certification

      Most states require continuing education credits for nurses to renew an RN license. These credit hours help nurses to be current in their field. The continuing education credit hours you choose are generally up to you.

      Consider the types of continuing education that would be most helpful for the career trajectory you have planned. These educational offerings can help you determine if the career path you are seeking is the one you really want.

      For example, if you’re working on a medical-surgical unit with an eye toward cardiology, consider taking continuing education hours in cardiac nursing. Before moving too far into your chosen field, you may find it’s not as interesting as you thought.

      In your first year out of school, you may not be thinking about taking more classes or getting a specialty nursing certification. While it doesn’t have to be on top of your list of things to do in your first year, you want to keep an eye out for the different types of certifications nurses in your field have taken.

      There are several benefits to continuing your education, for yourself and your employer. Certifications demonstrate your commitment to your career development and dedication to patient care. Hospitals prefer nurses with specialty certifications because it improves patient care. Ninety percent of managers say they would hire a certified nurse over a noncertified nurse.

      Hospitals also use nursing certification to differentiate themself from their competitors, and it improves the nursing retention rate. Specialty certification could be on the list for your second or third year after graduation.

    Frequently Asked Questions by New Nursing Graduates

    question-mark-circleWhat can I do with my nursing degree?

    Not all nurses work in hospitals or outpatient clinics. There are at least 50 nursing positions, so it’s likely you’ll find something you enjoy.

    Your education is also valued outside of bedside nursing, including as a research nurse, nursing informaticist, or school nurse. You could work on a cruise ship or in the prison system.

    You might consider working as a legal nurse consultant, nutrition and fitness expert, or pharmaceutical research nurse.

    question-mark-circleWhat is the highest-paid nursing job?

    The pay scale is often proportionate to the skill and risk in the job. The highest-paying nursing job is a certified nurse anesthetist whose average annual salary is $163,370 according to Payscale in May 2022. These nurses prepare and administer anesthetics during surgery or other procedures.

    question-mark-circleIs it hard to get a job after nursing school?

    There are many factors that impact how difficult it is to get a job. The most highly-sought after positions are still very competitive and often require experience.

    Although there is a nursing shortage, hiring managers are looking for teachable nurses who are flexible and will fit in with their team. If you meet these criteria, you may have your choice after graduating.

    question-mark-circleWhere do most new grad nurses work?

    Most new nursing graduates work in a hospital where they can get the greatest amount of experience in the shortest amount of time. Positions outside of hospitals are often looking for nurses with inpatient experience. This provides a nurse with the foundation and confidence to operate in a more independent role.

    Advice for New Nursing Graduates

    Stepping away from a structured nursing program into a nursing position can be scary and overwhelming. You are suddenly faced with making decisions for your patients and about your future. It is important to remember that you are not alone.

    Remember to be honest with yourself and others. In the end, it will be your integrity that supports patient outcomes and your career advancement. Organizational and time management skills are your best friends. If you are not organized and time efficient, it’s time to learn.

    Invest in a good pair of shoes because you’ll be on your feet for 10-16 hours each day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and return the favor when your colleagues need a helping hand. Invest in your continuing education since it will form the foundation of your professional development.

    You’ll learn a lot during your first year in nursing. You’ll discover how much about patient care you still don’t know and you’ll find out more about yourself too.

    While the first year can be intimidating, it’s important that you stop during the day to celebrate with your patient, lend a shoulder to someone who is grieving, and breathe during your shift. Nursing is about caring for others at times in their life that may be the most difficult. You are up to that challenge.