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6 Essential Tips for Nurses in Their First Year

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Academic and research institutions have consistently reported high levels of stress and anxiety among nursing students and new nursing professionals. For new professionals, applying what they learned in the classroom to real-life situations can bring anxiety. Thankfully, new nurses can look to established professionals to learn more about coping with various stressors.

On this page, we offer six essential tips for new nurses. We include tips from a few nurses and healthcare professionals on becoming a nurse and how to best prepare for new challenging roles in the field.

1. Develop Excellent Time Management Skills

Your job as a new nurse comes with a long list of responsibilities. Dr. Debra Sullivan, a nursing professor at Walden University, suggests that time management skills are crucial to your success.

For Dr. Sullivan, new nurses hone these skills on the job. “Time management is a crucial skill that new nurses can only learn once they are practicing. It can be hard to meet the expectations of management, co-workers, and patients during a shift,” she says.

“Not only is patient care a priority, but a nurse must also administer treatments, distribute medications, and schedule ancillary tests. Effective time management is key to making all these obligations work.”

The International Journal of Caring Sciences offers an in-depth analysis of time management for nurses and offers practical strategies for effective time management.

2. Consult Established Co-Workers for Practical Information

New nurses should develop strong working relationships with established professionals in their field. These relationships make the workday more enjoyable while providing you with a good source of practical information. If your chosen mentors work in your concentration area, they can also serve as excellent teachers.

Racheal O’Neill, a registered nurse (RN) in Tennessee, suggests that new students should tell their mentors “what their weaknesses are and let them hold you accountable for bettering yourself.” In her experience, O’Neill struggled at first to handle certain types of procedures. Her mentors, however, were persistent and made sure she had plenty of practice with these methods. O’Neill mastered the procedures and became more comfortable in her new nursing role because of their guidance.

Similarly, Dr. Sullivan argues that asking co-workers questions throughout a shift is an excellent learning tool: “I wish I had known to give myself permission to ask more questions and not be so worried about feeling vulnerable. There is so much to learn. Nursing education prepares nurses for what to expect as far as medical problems, but it’s difficult to learn in a classroom how to manage time or navigate the culture of nursing.”

3. Take Extra Steps to Prepare In Advance

Some nurses stress the importance of planning ahead, including taking additional steps outside the classroom to better prepare yourself for a new nursing job. For Donna Brown, a retired RN with over 40 years of work experience, volunteering and internships present opportunities to gain practical experience before entering the workforce. Brown suggests that these experiences also offer “nurses a chance to learn first-hand about a prospective employer.”

Brown urges new nurses to take the necessary time to “learn and hone” their nursing skills. For students who might need more time to develop their skills, volunteering and internships can provide you with extra practice before taking on the responsibilities of a full-time job.

Dr. Sullivan suggests that students join professional organizations outside of school or work to better prepare themselves for the workforce. “While in the clinical practicum, building relationships with other nurses is a great way to prepare to enter the workforce,” she says.

“New nurses can also prepare by joining professional organizations related to their chosen area of nursing practice. For example, nurses working with orthopedic patients could join the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses,” she adds.

4. Practice Self-Care from the Start

Many young professionals experience new nurse anxiety. Developing a self-care routine helps nurses battle challenging feelings or stressful work situations.

Dr. Sullivan recommends that new nurses take breaks and time off to attend to their feelings and reduce stress levels: “Take care of yourself. Nurses don’t do that very well, but it is so important. Take time to exercise, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises.”

Purdue University offers a useful step-by-step guide for new nurses to develop a self-care plan. According to studies completed at the university and the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics, self-care works as a stress management tool while providing nurses with renewed energy and replenished empathy and compassion. It is no surprise that these studies also show that nurses who practice self-care provide a higher quality of care for patients and are more likely to follow established medical safety precautions in the workplace.

5. Mentally and Physically Prepare for Long Shifts

While you might not jump into a schedule of extensive nursing shifts at the start, many nurses express the need for incoming professionals to prepare for long hours. In addition to eating before you start the shift and bringing snacks with you, experienced nurses suggest avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine.

By keeping low levels of caffeine in your system, you avoid the inevitable crash. Secondly, this strategy also helps reduce the number of bathroom breaks you take on the job.

According to Brown, shifts may include extended periods of alone time, where the nurse is the only professional on the hospital or clinic floor. With this in mind, Brown reminds new nurses that bathroom and meal breaks are sometimes hard to come by. “New nurses also need to know that working solo is more often the rule, rather than the exception… hospitals are very busy, and it is not uncommon for nurses to work long 10-12 hour shifts, often without bathroom or meal breaks.”

6. Find a Good Balance Between Learning and Doing

New nurses need to balance learning and doing to achieve success in their roles. Established co-workers have high expectations of incoming nursing professionals and rely on them to carry their share of the workload. Brown reminds us, however, that “often a new nurse may need a longer orientation to become familiar with hospital policies and procedures, and [become] competent in her new role.”

In this way, new nurses should go easy on themselves while keeping their eyes open for new learning opportunities on the job. Brown suggests that if new nurses “need more time to acquire critical skills, they may have to seek out their supervisor and explain that they need more time to learn their responsibilities.”

Meet Our Contributors

Rachael O’Neill
Expert Reviewer: Rachael O'Neill

Rachael O’Neill, RN, BSN, graduated nursing school in 2011 with her ADN and received her BSN in 2014. She currently works two PRN jobs, one in the emergency department at Tennova Medical in Clarksville, TN. The other is in interventional radiology at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, TN.

Dr. Debra Sullivan
Expert Reviewer: Dr. Debra Sullivan

Dr. Debra Sullivan, senior core faculty in Walden University’s MSN program, is a nurse with more than 30 years of experience in the medical field. Her practice and research interests include obstetrics and gynecology, obesity, dermatology, cardiology, critical care, orthopedics, and pediatrics.

Donna Brown
Expert Reviewer: Donna Brown

Donna F. Brown is a 68-year-young retired RN, author, and musician living in Pearce, a small rural community in SE Arizona. She has worked as a registered nurse for over 40 years in hospitals, clinics, ICUs, and doctor’s offices. After retiring from nursing, she rediscovered her musician roots, and received worldwide acclaim for the music she created with her ‘70s rock band, Medusa. She published her latest book, an autobiography, in 2019, describing her nursing and musical experiences throughout her adventurous life.

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