How to Advocate for Yourself as a New Nurse
You completed your nursing degree. You passed the nursing boards. Now it's time to care and advocate for your patients. But you might be thinking, "As a new nurse, how do I advocate for myself?"
Advocacy is a relatively new concept in nursing, emerging around the 1980s in the United States. To advocate is to support a cause or proposal. In nursing school, nurses are taught to advocate for their patient's needs or wishes, but what about yours?
One of the hardest things you may face as a new nurse is focusing on your own needs and wishes. The thought of advocating for yourself may feel overwhelming, but it is a necessary step to grow professionally.
Like with anything, advocating for yourself takes practice. Here are five effective ways to advocate for yourself when starting your new nursing job.
Why New Nurses Don't Advocate for Themselves
As a new nurse, the last thing you might be thinking about is advocating for yourself. The nursing role comes with anxiety, the fear of making mistakes as a nurse, and dealing with those consequences.
There are many reasons why new nurses might feel intimidated to ask for what they need. Intimidation looks like:
- Bullying in nursing
- Fear of losing your job
- Workplace stress and nurse burnout
- Feelings of guilt
- Lack of support
These might lead you to even leave nursing. New nurses are pulled in all directions. Feeling empowered to speak up for yourself, let alone having the time, might be pushed down your priority list. These reasons are why nurses should advocate for themselves.
Advocating for yourself lets others know something isn't right, that you're feeling overwhelmed or simply setting goals for yourself.
When you can ask for what you need, it benefits your patients and sets you up for success.
How to Advocate for Yourself as a New Nurse
Some nurses don't have a problem asking for what they need, but others may need some support. Knowing how and when to speak up for yourself helps you avoid conflict or issues down the road.
These five strategies will help you advocate for yourself effectively without feeling pushy or passive-aggressive.
1. Communicate Effectively
In any situation when you have to advocate for yourself, knowing how to effectively communicate can help de-escalate the situation and clear up confusion. You want to make sure you're communicating clearly and to the point.
There is a process when communicating. Whether you are talking to a provider, another nurse, other staff, or a patient and their family, the process is the same. Three things that are necessary for successful communication are:
- A sender (you)
- A clear message
- A receiver
It is OK to ask the receiver if they understood what you said and if they would like you to repeat it.
When advocating for yourself, become familiar with how you want to communicate. Will you have a face-to-face conversation, a video chat, or send an email? Figure out your communication style. Know what makes you feel comfortable.
2. Know Your Scope of Practice
Knowing your scope of practice is as important as effective communication. Nurses by law must practice within their scope. If a provider asks you to do something that is out of your scope of practice, not only can you harm a patient, you can lose your nursing license.
To know you are practicing within your scope, talk to your nurse educator or look up your state's office of professions. You can read this and print it out.
As a way to advocate for yourself, if you ever have someone question you, refer them to your scope of practice. It will let them know what you are licensed to perform.
3. Prepare and Plan Your Day
Advocating for yourself is taking action and setting a goal. As a nurse in your first year, you may feel nervous and overwhelmed. You will be performing certain tasks or procedures you aren't familiar with yet.
A way to advocate for yourself is preparing and planning your day. To plan your day, make sure to:
- Stay organized
- Print and use care plans
- Consult your preceptor even if you are off orientation
- Take your break
- Write things down to look up later
Preparing the night before or even after your shift is a great way to stay organized and lower your anxiety. Protecting your mental health as a nurse is a priority. If a nursing assignment is difficult or you have a heavy district, prepare and plan your day with your preceptor or another nurse you confide in.
4. Know Who to Call (or Not to Call) for Help
Knowing who to call for help is a form of self-advocacy. As a new nurse, it's important to know who to call in emergencies or if you need to vent.
Create a list either on paper or in your head of staff members you know will advocate for you and encourage you to advocate for yourself. This person can be:
- Your preceptor
- Another experienced staff nurse
- Social worker
- Nurse educator
- Nurse manager
- Nurse director
Knowing who not to call is just as important. Unfortunately, as a new nurse, nurse bullying is prevalent. One study reported 30% of new nurses report being bullied at work. So, if there is a nurse you know doesn't have your back, consider avoiding asking for help unless it is a true emergency.
5. Get Involved
Getting involved in your unit or taking advantage of nursing organizations is a great form of advocacy for yourself and the profession. The American Nurses Association has over 4 million registered nurse members. Having access to nurse networking events and conferences is another way to gain advocacy skills.
Joining a committee as a new nurse allows you to:
- Get your concerns heard and addressed
- Show you are a team player
- Learn other advocacy strategies
- Practice getting ideas out and possibility carried out
Getting involved is a way to invest in yourself, figure out your wants and needs, and advance professionally.
The word "advocate" is used often in healthcare, especially when caring for patients. But new nurses aren't taught how to advocate for themselves. You may not feel empowered to speak up or point out when you think something is wrong.
Why advocate for yourself? Because you know something isn't right, or your needs aren't being met. Remember, it will take some time to feel comfortable, but if you set goals and intentions, you will be able to ask for what you need in no time.
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