The first year of your nursing job is really like your first few weeks on the varsity team. It’s phenomenal and a feat just to have landed the job in the first place! Maybe this was your dream unit or maybe you recall all the hard work and tireless nights you spent studying rather than partying… But this really is the big leagues.
You are at once, thrown into an unfamiliar situation, forced to test your recall of almost all the knowledge you learned in your collective years of nursing school, and on top of that, you run the chance of maybe not even having a team that works to your strengths. It can definitely be overwhelming at times, which is why we wanted to remind you of some of the normal growing pains you might be experiencing as you are transitioning from nursing students to professional nurses.
What’s it Like to be a New Nurse
Learning Never Stops
Learning on the job as a nurse is like learning how to play a finals match as you’re dribbling the ball. The stakes are high, adrenaline’s pumping. What will help you improve the most is making sure your education does not stop when you clock out (within reason, we encourage building healthy work/life boundaries). If your job is based on troubleshooting and thoroughly assessing a patient or situation, critical thinking and formulating a care plan takes more than just your active duty time.
Definitely do not feel discouraged! Remember that this is like learning a whole new drill and skill set. Actions, in theory, are not going to be the same in reality. A new workflow is going to feel clunky and take some time to get used to doing and repetition is the best solution.
As a new nurse, you are going to get a reality check on how much you really know in a practical sense as a safe, competent nurse. This skill may require additional preparation after hours even. However, we definitely advise using that time with discretion. A way to circumvent spending needless hours is the following:
Your Preceptor and Other Mentors
Your relationship with your preceptor nurse is really like your relationship with a head coach. The job of this experienced nurse is to show you the ropes, and they are there to lay a strong professional foundation for you as a teammate. As such, building a good rapport can pay dividends in the future in supporting your growth. Mentorship is one pathway for preceptors, but mentors can appear in a variety of other places as well.
Like your team. Your team experience can really make or break your first year as a nurse. Not only can a senior staff’s experience and knowledge be invaluable, but the type of treatment and work culture you experience can also negatively or positively affect your overall career trajectory. This can make or break your love of the profession. This not only applies in nursing but as a young professional overall.
What’s it Like to be a New Nurse: The Big Leagues
We definitely want to recognize that your first year on the job brings a new type of stress. The work is real now, and the magnitude of a failure in a hospital unit versus a fail on a test is universes away from each other. It’s worth recognizing that while you are a valued player on the team, you also are expected to bring your A-game consistently now.
But your first year may be your first time seeing patients suffering. Whether it is physical or emotional pain, it is never going to be easy to witness. As a nurse, your job is to provide care in the face of that adversity. You are going to be juggling a lot; delivering care, keeping communication open, using technical skills, and managing your own emotions and delivery all at once. But as a person, this is a lot. Knowing yourself and how you will react in your specialty, and manage yourself and reactions accordingly. It is not about being numb, or keeping having a mask on, but taking care of yourself, to take care of others.
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You are first and foremost working with people. And people at work all generally want the same thing. Which is, to enjoy being there. Not only is it worth investing the time in building a trusting and even enjoyable relationship with your colleagues, but also take the time to give you and your teammate’s grace. Days in your unit will have their highs and lows. Take it one day at a time. And if you have the energy and genuinely mean it, show your gratitude for others openly.
The Physical Toll
If you are a deeply empathetic person, this point may also relate to the point above. If you find yourself taking work home, you may start seeing it manifest in your body or habits to numb certain emotions. We definitely encourage seeking support. Maybe you just need venting, or coworkers to understand, or maybe it’s more than that. Whatever it is, know the signs when it’s happening and be proactive in addressing it.
Practically speaking, the day to day of a nurse is very much like someone in retail, but way higher stakes. You are on your feet for hours and bathroom and snack breaks are on your patients’ and rotation’s time (as are lunches sometimes). And we didn’t even mention night shifts!
Be sure to take care of your feet. Compression socks and comfortable shoes are going to be your best friend your first year of nursing. Certain yoga poses can be very restorative for people on their feet a majority of the day. Make comfort a priority when choosing the right footwear.
What’s it Like to be a New Nurse Video
We hope you found this article encouraging more than anything, with practical help sprinkled here and there. Being a first-time nurse is facing the fact that you are not going to win them all, and learning to let go and move onto your next patient is one of the hardest lessons you will have to learn. But helping a patient, and perhaps even saving their life is the most rewarding experience Very few other professions are as emotionally taxing and rewarding. Take heart in knowing you were prepared and are supported by a team and professionals that also want to see you succeed. The same attitude you came into nursing school with is most likely what got you the job, so stay hungry, and keep asking questions as you continue on your nursing job and career.
Looking to prepare for your first nursing job?
The FreshRN® New Nurse Master Class is the first-ever self-guided holistic nurse residency program. This comprehensive program was specifically created for the ambitious newly licensed acute care nurses who want to get ahead of them and build both their confidence and their clinical skills - all while learning how to adjust to the unique lifestyle of a nurse.