What’s it Like to be a New Nurse? 5 Things to Expect

by | Feb 23, 2021 | New Nurse | 2 comments

If you are working on applications for nursing school, finishing up, or about to start your first job after graduation, you might wonder: “What’s it like to be a new nurse?” Learn from an experienced nurse what it’s like for new grads working in the hospital.

What's it Like to be a New Nurse

You Will Feel Overwhelmed By the Amount of Tasks

To learn the answer to the question, “What’s it like to be a new nurse,” let’s start with how our daw will be structured. Let’s say you’re working on a med-surg unit in a hospital. Here’s how a typical day shift runs for an experienced nurse who is at the top of their game.

  • 0700-0730: Get report
  • 0730-0800: Recover from report, plan the day
  • 0800-1030: First med pass and assessments
  • 1030-1100: Document, implement new orders
  • 1100-1230: Get patients their lunchtime meds and meal, round
  • 1230-1300: Lunch
  • 1300-1500: Post-lunch rounding and meds
  • 1530-1700: Discharges and admits
  • 1700-1730: Document, prep for last rounds
  • 1730-1830: Last meds and checks
  • 1830-1900: Document, prep for report

This would be an ideal shift with nothing major causing bumps in the road that would cause the nurse to get behind on their time management. For a new grad however, your time management will not be ideal.

You will take longer to get report, plan your shift, give your meds, etc. Hopefully, during your nursing orientation, you could slowly work up from one patient to a full load to attempt to keep up with this basic structure.

You might feel a lot of pressure to be able to keep up with the other experienced nurses right away, but I want to encourage you to manage your expectations. Being efficient with your time is not a skill that is suddenly activated. It takes time to build this skill, much like it takes time to build other complex skills. So, don’t be too hard on yourself when you feel like the shift is flying by and you feel like you’ve barely done a thing.

You Will Work Closely With a Nurse Preceptor

As a new graduate nurse, you will be paired with a nurse preceptor for anywhere from 6-12 weeks. If you are part of a nurse residency program, you may also be paired with a mentor or clinical coach.

Your preceptor will be with you throughout every shift, while a coach or mentor will periodically check in on how you are doing. Your preceptor is responsible for your professional development and will participate in job performance evaluations.

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At first, you will shadow this preceptor and then slowly take on more and more responsibility. When you get to the last few weeks of orientation, you are still working with the preceptor. However, you are doing all of the work, and they are merely checking behind you to ensure you do not miss anything vital. They will allow you to operate within a zone of safety, giving you autonomy to develop your routines and habits without allowing harm to come to the patient.

However, preceptors are not perfect. Some are too hands-on, and some are disengaged. Regardless of their teaching strategy, you are responsible for your orientation experience. If you are not getting the education or support you need to be successful in your role, you should talk to your nurse manager.

You Will Re-Learn a Lot

Nursing school went over quite a bit of topics, but did not go into depth on the topics you will need to know to successfully complete a shift on your unique unit. Plus, you went over that information months (maybe even years) earlier, so you will likely find yourself brushing up on pathophysiology, admission diagnoses, common meds, procedures, etc.

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Pro-tip ➡️ During orientation, make a note 📝 on your phone and jot down the most common reasons people are admitted to your unit and the things that didn’t seem obvious to you when your preceptor took care of them. Use the list to refresh yourself on the issue and treatment pathways so that you can be prepared the next time you care for a patient with a similar issue.

Remember, just because you passed a test on something in nursing school doesn’t mean you know it adequately today to care for a patient today suffering from that issue. It is very normal and human to revisit topics repeatedly until they are engrained in your nurse brain.

Give yourself permission to be a beginner!

Each Shift Will Be Exhausting

Like I said before, you will not be efficient. Completing tasks like setting up an IV pump and starting fluids, putting in a feeding tube, performing a full head-to-toe assessment, documenting correctly, and speaking to family members will all feel like they take forever. You will look at your colleagues and wonder how in the world they can do things so quickly yet with great quality. The simple answer is that they have more practice than you.

You need to get your reps in and do these tasks repeatedly to get faster with them. The first 3, 4, 7, and 10 times may feel awkward and clunky, but eventually, it will feel like second nature. Repeated practice while learning where everything is on the unit is physically exhausting.

You also will need a lot more cognitive energy to learn these tasks, develop critical thinking, and develop relationships with your new colleagues. This will cause mental fatigue. If you are exposed to secondary trauma regularly on your unit, that will cause emotional fatigue.

Because you will experience physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a new nurse, I highly recommend that new nurses not pick up overtime and ensure they get ample restorative rest on their days off to be back at the top of their game when they return. People think working only three days a week is easy, but it’s not! (Especially for new grad nurses.)

Talking To Patients Will Feel Weird

You are no longer a student. You are the patient’s primary nurse! It will feel weird and scary to be “in charge” of someone.

Knowing what it’s like to be a new nurse can really boil down to confidence. You need it, but you don’t have it yet. You want your patient to trust you, but you’re still brand new and scared. It is important to convey calm confidence but also maintain awareness that you do not know everything and are still a beginner who needs the guidance of your preceptor.

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What’s it Like to be a New Nurse Video

I won’t lie to you: Being a new nurse is very hard. It is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Once you can clock in confidently and give great care to your patients, there is no other feeling like it! Patients feel safe in your care. Doctors trust you. Colleagues look to you for help. You feel like you’re making a difference.

(And you are!)

More Resources for What’s It Like to be a New Nurse

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    Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

    Hi, I’m Kati.

    Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

    Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


    1. Carla Parker

      We’ve all been there. Had to start somewhere.

    2. Diana Klee

      Good preceptors are worth their weight in gold!! We NEED more that know how to nurture and grow baby nurses without squashing them.


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