Tips for Nurses in Their First Year
New graduate nurses in 2022 are joining the profession at arguably the most challenging time to be a nurse. As a novice nurse, you're joining a healthcare system that is struggling to pick up the pieces from a devastating pandemic.
There may be fewer experienced nurses available to show you the ropes. You may even find yourself advancing skill sets or becoming a leader sooner than expected.
Nursing school prepared you with the knowledge you need to be a nurse but learning how to succeed as a new nurse is an on-the-job skill. In this guide, we provide tips for developing the skills to survive your first year as a nurse.
Nurses Offer 7 Essential Tips to New Nurses
We spoke to four nurses with different experience levels who shared how they survived as new grads. They reflect on the best advice they were given as new nurses and share tips on how you can be successful in your first year, too.
1. Never Be Afraid to Ask Questions
As a new nurse, you will feel like you're asking a lot of questions. Pamela Glenn, CNM, APRN, wants you to know this is normal.
"Never think you know it all," she says. "A wise nurse mentor once told me that as soon as you think you know it all, you will be humbled very quickly."
Glenn also says to ask for clarification if something doesn't seem right. As a new nurse, it can feel intimidating to question a physician's orders. However, speaking up is an important skill that allows you to advocate for yourself as a new nurse and your patients.
Jacob Weill, an intensive care unit nurse who graduated in 2019, agrees you should never be afraid to ask questions. "There is always another nurse or doctor that is willing to help you," he says.
If the halls are empty and you can't find someone to answer your question, use your resources. Call the charge nurse or page the appropriate provider to help you troubleshoot your problem.
Always remember that it's better to ask too many questions than to make an uninformed decision that affects patient care.
2. Make Patients the Top Priority
As a nurse, you're responsible for delivering care, communicating among teams, and documenting every last thing you did. When you have so many tasks to complete, it can be easy to lose sight of the first priority.
Weill shares that as a new grad, he wishes he realized that patient care always comes before charting.
"Documentation is imperative, but the patient is the reason why you are providing the care and the number one priority," he says. "You have to make sure that the patient is comfortable, first and foremost — you can't forget the main reason why you became a nurse to begin with."
3. Lean on Experienced Nurses
An advantage to an ever-changing healthcare landscape is having coworkers who have changed with it. Glenn recommends identifying these nurses and picking their brains for clinical advice. She says new grads should be "open to receiving advice and clinical care strategies from experienced nurses."
Experienced nurses may be able to help you find a solution to a problem that you didn't learn in nursing school. Just be sure to check the hospital's policy before you put Pepsi-Cola down a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube!
4. Make Genuine Friendships
When you take your first hospital engagement survey, you'll see a question asking if you have a "work best friend." The question may seem strange, but having genuine friendships at work will help you succeed as a nurse.
Elizabeth Rudolph is an attorney, nurse, and professional legal nurse consultant. In her law career, she defends nurses involved in malpractice cases. When she worked as a bedside nurse, she said something that made her successful was being a good friend to her colleagues.
"Early on, I realized the importance of being a genuine friend and colleague, a value I still believe to this day," she shares.
Making connections with your coworkers can take you a long way. As you open up to your colleagues, you can find a nurse mentor who will help you throughout your nursing career.
Prisca Benson, MSN, RN, a nurse navigator for neurology patients, wants you to see the value in identifying a nurse mentor.
"Connect with other new nurses and try to find mentors that are willing to support you," she says.
Your network doesn't need to be limited to your hospital. Seeking a nursing community through social media can help you find your support.
"If it's a challenge to find that support locally, join online groups and follow nursing profiles," Benson says. "You'll see there's a welcoming committee across the internet who relate to what you are going through and are willing to support you through it."
5. Always Be Willing to Keep Learning
Even if you don't go back to school for a higher degree, you will continue to learn throughout your nursing career. As a nurse practitioner and educator, Glenn shares the importance of being willing to learn.
"Take notes and follow up on any research you may need to do to better understand a concept or process," she says.
There will be times when you care for a patient with a rare diagnosis or illness you've never heard of. Take it as a learning opportunity. You will find that your hospital has references available to help you learn about your patients if you're willing to look.
Rudolph says you should also take advantage of learning opportunities outside of work. Stay current in your nursing practice by attending conferences, seminars, and workshops.
"If not for the continuing education," she says, "then attend for the networking and sharing of evidence-based practice techniques from your nursing colleagues."
6. Know That Your Career Path Isn't Linear
You worked so hard to complete nursing school and pass boards that it may feel like your new nursing job is the end-all-be-all. It's appropriate to want to settle into your new role and learn how to succeed in your specialty.
But the experienced nurses want you to know your career path will change over time.
"Know that whatever your first nursing job is, it doesn't have to be your last," Benson says.
There will be aspects to your new job that are frustrating and stressful, but Benson says to hang in there. She admits she nearly quit her first nursing job after six months because she felt herself burning out. A fellow experienced nurse recommended she try per diem nursing instead.
"This provided enough relief for me to continue to grow as a nurse, rather than burning out. I will be forever grateful to her," Benson says. "Her sound advice allowed me to have a full and fulfilling career in nursing."
Whether it's a schedule change or an industry shift, your career as a nurse will take you far if you let it. Rudolph began her career as a pediatric hematology-oncology nurse and went on to become a lawyer and legal nurse consultant.
"Your nursing career trajectory is not linear," she tells new nurses.
As you discover the opportunities your career brings, remember Rudolph's beloved grandmother's advice: "The world is your oyster."
7. Trust That Confidence Will Come With Time
As a new nurse, you are probably wondering when you are going to find your flow. Remember to be patient with yourself as you gain confidence in your new nursing practice. If you show up to work every shift with an open mind and willingness to learn, you will be successful.
Glenn says one of the best pieces of reassurance she offered herself during a new nurse job orientation was recognizing that it would take at least six months to feel comfortable in her new role.
"This helped me to set clear and realistic expectations for myself," Glenn says. "It also helped me avoid unnecessary stress while learning and adapting to the new role."
Having been a new nurse recently, Weill shares that it takes time to gain confidence in your nursing specialty.
"Never worry that you don't know what to do," he says. "You will gain confidence as you gain more experience treating different types of patient illnesses."
Meet Our Contributors
Prisca Benson, MSN, RN
Prisca Benson graduated from Rutgers College of Nursing in 2011. She is a PCCN-certified nurse who has worked in various nursing areas in both hospitals and home care in New York and New Jersey. She went on to earn her master's in nurse education at Chamberlain University in 2021. She currently practices as a nurse navigator for the neuroscience department at The Valley Hospital. Her passion for educating people led her to start a blog (ourgreenlifenj.com) during the pandemic to increase the accessibility of reliable information.
Elizabeth Rudolph, JD, MSN, RN, PLNC
Elizabeth Rudolph is an attorney, nurse, and professional legal nurse consultant. In 2006, she founded JurexNurse.com, a company that has certified thousands of nurses to be legal nurse consultants through an online course. Rudolph earned her BSN, MSN, and law degree from Vanderbilt University. Rudolph rounded out her law practice by working for Johnnie Cochran pursuing cases for patients who believed they had been wronged. Rudolph is a nationally acclaimed speaker providing over 2,000 presentations on legal issues in nursing.
Jacob Weil, BSN, RN
Having graduated from Long Island University Brooklyn's nursing program with a BSN in December 2019, Jacob Weill is a registered nurse at Sinai Hospital's progressive care unit in Baltimore, Maryland. Weill has certifications in basic life support and advanced cardiovascular life support and is a recent hire as a registered nurse at University of Maryland Hospital's intensive care unit.
Pamela Glenn, CNM, APRN
Pamela Glenn is an academic coach for Walden University's College of Nursing Tempo programs and a certified nurse midwife. She has practiced in a wide variety of healthcare settings and cared for patients across a variety of ages and backgrounds. Before becoming a CNM, she served as director of the advanced practice RNs at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, as well as an accreditation surveyor consultant for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
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