Tips and Tricks for New Nurses: How to Make the Best out of Your First Year as a Registered Nurse
Congratulations are in order! All the years of hard work, the sleepless nights spent studying, the numerous exams, the resume crafting and the nursing interviews have now come to an end as you embark on the new leg of your nursing journey. You are officially a Registered Nurse and you are launching off a career doing what you love most.
The first days up to the first year on the job can be overwhelming. When you’re a new nurse, meeting new people, applying textbook knowledge to real-life situations, and learning by doing each job-related activity can be equally exciting and terrifying.
A smooth transition from student life to RN life is any nurse’s dream. We have put together a guide with the best tips and tricks to help you achieve that. Let’s go through some of the best advice that will ensure that you not only survive your first year as a new grad nurse, but make the absolute best out of it!
Break the ice
The first few days of a nurse job are pivotal for any new grad. As you step into your career, there are many new faces and names to remember and many people you’ll work with whom you should try to get to know.
Since nursing is not a solitary enterprise, an excellent tip is to take the initiative and get to know your coworkers. And we’re not only talking about your fellow nurses but also make a case of introducing yourself to all the people involved in the running of a unit or hospital: the physicians, the residents, the nursing assistants, the managers, the physical therapists, the nutritionists, and the cleaning staff. Knowing the people you work with will help you get more comfortable in your new environment faster. It’s also useful for the colleagues on the other side of the introduction because they are just as eager to make your acquaintance.
Find a mentor
Finding a nursing mentor, either someone who works in the same institution or someone from the outside, whose advice and expertise you trust, may come a long way in helping you adjust to a new career. A valuable mentoring relationship relies on you asking questions, taking notes, establishing goals, setting expectations, and developing clear objectives for yourself and your nursing practice. Your mentor can be a tremendous help in this process.
You don’t have to know everything on your first day.
You cannot expect to be an expert from your first day on the job. Nursing school provides a solid foundation, but you’ll discover that real-life nursing is different from what you’ve experienced so far through textbooks and clinicals. So, allow yourself time to be a novice nurse and grow into the expertise you know you are capable of having. You may need more time to adjust to hospital protocols or learn specific procedures – and that’s perfectly okay. You are bound to become an excellent nurse as long as you don’t stop learning, especially during your transition period, and take on every challenge with excitement and curiosity.
Always ask questions.
We cannot stress this new-nurse tip enough: Do not be afraid to ask questions! A patient’s treatment, recovery, or even life can depend on it. Going into a new job, nurses want to make a good first impression, and some may think that asking questions is a sign of weakness or an indication of a lack of expertise. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. First, as we mentioned in the last piece of advice, no one expects you to be an expert on your first day. Second, the healthcare field is constantly changing and improving, and the best way to navigate all the changes as a new nurse is by asking questions, being curious, and being willing to learn.
Other nurses may assume they already know everything, which is equally dangerous. You cannot let your ego stand in the way of the quality of care you deliver. When you’re even a little unsure about the best course of action, it’s best to clarify than make a mistake with potentially disastrous results. Patient safety always comes first; sometimes the best way to achieve that is by asking questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Sometimes a question answered by a more experienced nurse will be enough assistance to put you on the right track. Other times you may need a little more guidance than just an answer. Perhaps you’re uncomfortable performing a procedure independently because you’ve never done it before. Or maybe you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have lined up. Asking for help is highly encouraged because it is a sure way for you to grow.
Supervision from a more experienced nurse when you’re nervous about a procedure can help you get more confident in your ability to perform it. Asking about tips and tricks to better manage your tasks can help you develop a routine that works for you. Providing nursing care takes a village, and asking for help is what keeps the village running.
As much as we would love to avoid it, nursing mistakes happen. To err is human and even though their care, strength, and resilience make them superheroes, nurses are still, first and foremost, humans. What matters most is to not let a mistake define you. Do not ignore it, but don’t beat yourself up over it, either. Instead, figure out what caused the error and find ways to learn from it. Nursing is a lifelong learning process, and this process may get challenging or rocky. Take every bump in the road as an opportunity to get better at your practice.
Learn to prioritize tasks
One of the most important things you need to get the hang of as a new nurse is the art of time management. It’s definitely not easy to master, so you ought to be patient with yourself as you navigate all the intricacies of learning to prioritize. As a nurse, you have many tasks to manage: taking vitals, doing assessments, performing nursing diagnoses, administering medications – and all for multiple patients. At the same time, some patients are more critical, and some tasks more pressing. It’s crucial to find an organizational technique that works for you.
Here are some tricks for newbie nurses searching for a prioritization system. You can organize your tasks in three categories: Must Do within 30 minutes, Should Do within four hours, and Could Do by the end of the shift. If you are a more visual person, what may work for you is drawing boxes in front of your list of tasks and assigning colors to each box based on priority. Also, feel free to ask the more experienced nurses in your institution what routine works for them. You can always draw inspiration from other nurses and adjust their techniques to work for you.
Don’t forget about your role as a patient advocate.
One of the primary responsibilities of Registered Nurses is acting as patient advocates. As an RN, you are the healthcare professional who spends the most time with the patient, so you are in the unique and incredibly important position of advocating for your client and ensuring their safety.
If you notice any wrongdoings in the process of care or if you think your patient’s wishes or beliefs are not being respected, you need to speak up. Take your concerns to the Charge Nurse or someone higher up in the nursing hierarchy. Always make sure your patient comes first.
Self Care is Key!
Nurses tend to be some of the most selfless and dedicated people, always putting the needs of others before their own. But when starting this job, there’s a crucial piece of advice you should always keep in mind: you are your most important patient. In order to be the best nurse you can be, you need to prioritize your health, safety, wellbeing, and emotions. Take care of yourself. Take time to decompress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sleep well, eat well, stay hydrated, and exercise. Make sure you devote time to family, friends, and hobbies outside of work. These activities will help you avoid burnout and keep you passionate about nursing.
Check out our article for more tips and tricks to avoid nursing burnout.
Never stop learning
You’ve collected a great deal of knowledge through nursing school, preparing for the NCLEX, or attending clinicals. But guess what: with nursing, even though you are no longer technically in school, you never stop learning. The healthcare field develops at impressive speeds, so you must keep your skills sharp and knowledge updated at all points of your career.
Also, you’ll find that you can sharpen your skills by acting as a sponge and absorbing information from all around the workplace. Listen and learn from the more experienced nurses. They can introduce you to practices and advice that took them years to acquire. You’ll set yourself up for success if you go into work ready to improve and learn something new every day.
Being a lifelong learner is key for RNs who take their job seriously.
Nursing is about teamwork.
While necessary for any job, for nursing professionals, it’s all the more important to build positive professional relationships with your colleagues. People’s lives may depend on your collaboration with fellow nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff members. Take the time to get to know your coworkers. Join them in activities outside of work. Find people you can rely on in your work community to whom you can go for advice or help. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be best friends with your coworkers but establishing good relationships will make the workday go faster and help you become a better nurse.
The struggle is part of the process.
There may come a time, especially at the beginning of your nursing career, when you feel discouraged, frustrated, or unsure of your skill and knowledge. It’s not hard to fall into the traps of imposter syndrome. It’s essential to understand that struggling a bit, especially as a new grad, is entirely normal and part of every nurse’s process.
As you gain more experience, all the tasks that seemed challenging at first will become more manageable to the point where they become second nature. Don’t let yourself get intimidated by the initial struggles, and you will reap the benefits of a wonderful nursing carer. Have confidence in your skills and knowledge. Still, always try to improve them by consistently embracing the struggles and even stepping outside your comfort zone.
Feel free to cheat a little bit now.
You are likely blissfully aware of this, but a reminder is essential: nursing school is over, and with it begone are the exams, the tests, and the countless sleepless nights spent memorizing pages worth of information. Now that you are actually working, you don’t have to rely solely on your memory. A little cheating is not only accepted but it’s also encouraged.
As an employed nursing professional, you no longer aim to pass a test but to provide quality and safe care. Do you have some questions about the conditions for administering certain medications? Look them up. Are you unsure about the appropriate vital signs for a specific age group? The answer is one search away. There are many ways to ‘cheat’ as a new nurse. Carry a pocket-sized reference guide. Use apps. Have handy a notebook where you note down important things that you may need to remember or recall repeatedly. Very soon, you won’t even need all these ‘aids,’ but until then, don’t feel embarrassed to rely on outside resources, not only on your memory.
Some things are not to be taken personally.
You have to develop a relatively thick skin as a nurse. Dealing with frustrated patients, disgruntled or worried families, angry doctors, or bad nurses will become part of your routine from the first few days of your nursing practice. Initially, it may be challenging not to let others’ frustrations and worries take a toll on you, but you need to learn that this is merely a product of the environment and not an attack on you.
For instance, when people are in pain, they may be less courteous; when someone is worried about their partner, they may be less calm and understanding in talking to the nurse. Be empathetic but don’t let things or words affect you too much.
However, when it comes to unprofessional coworkers, you shouldn’t just glance over if something bothers you or if their performance is affecting patient wellbeing. Seek support from higher management. Charge Nurses, Nursing Administrators, Nurse Leaders are there to listen to you.
Keep a straight face
A poker face is one of the most significant assets for a Registered Nurse—the things you may see or hear while on the job may seem unbelievable to anyone else. Still, you must graciously and professionally attend to everything.
Don’t let shock be read on your face when talking to patients. Don’t let judgment be part of your attitude when dealing with any situation. People you care for may be in vulnerable positions, and knowing they can trust you goes a long way in making them feel more comfortable.
Comfortable shoes go a long way.
The following piece of advice is more pragmatic in nature, but it is one of the most important, albeit often overlooked bits of information on this list. Always wear comfortable shoes! Nurses walk around five miles during an average 12-hour day shift. Some simple math and we find out that it only takes a little over five shifts to cover the marathon distance. As such, you must ensure you are most comfortable if you want to perform your best throughout your entire work day.
You need to find a style and brand that works for you, but to help you out, we’ve put together a list of some of the most loved nursing shoes.
Get a notebook and master the art of note-taking.
Fresh out of nursing school and just entering a real-life work environment, it might feel overwhelming to keep up with all the tasks, responsibilities, and demands. Writing them down is a good idea if you don’t want to let things slip through the cracks.
Jot down lists of things to do during your shift. Make handy notes for yourself of things you need to remember or recall often. Your notebook will be an excellent way to keep you organized and ensure you don’t forget any of the essential things on your plate. As you get more experienced, you may develop a routine that won’t even require a notebook, but in the beginning, you’ll find it an excellent tool to ease and improve your practice.
Take your breaks
Being a novice nurse doesn’t mean you have to work until you drop to prove you deserve your position in the organization or win anyone’s favor. Your breaks are essential to your work schedule because they allow time to recharge. Amid all the stress and anxiety that comes with the job, it’s crucial to have a few minutes for yourself. Eat, hydrate, or relax – use your breaks however you see fit, but don’t refuse them. Being overworked will not make you a better nurse. Prioritizing yourself will.
The unexpected is the only thing you can expect from life as a nurse. You may work in the Emergency Room or a neonatal unit. Maybe your job has you in a private clinic or a public hospital. Work environments, job titles, and job descriptions may vary, but one thing remains consistent: you must be flexible and adjust quickly. When chaos ensues – and it will inevitably will sooner or later – you will find that flexibility is the skill that keeps you afloat.
Give yourself time with charting.
Charting is a significant part of your responsibilities, and you need to get good and efficient at it. But give yourself time. It might take a while to get the hang of all the ins and outs of your institution’s charting system. Especially as a new graduate when you are still unfamiliar with the system.
While charting is significant, nothing is more important than patient care, so always put your patient first and charting second. If you manage to do real-time charting, that will increase your efficiency. But it’s critical to be patient and give yourself time to reach that point in your practice.
Truly, genuinely, and wholeheartedly enjoy it!
Brace yourself for the most noteworthy piece of advice we have for new, experienced – and all nurses in general: You’ve worked hard for it, and now you deserve to enjoy it fully. Cherish the fact that you are on the frontlines of saving lives. Find value in having followed your calling. Enjoy the paychecks, the benefits, and the growth opportunities. Take delight in the professional and personal relationships you develop. Enjoy clocking into work every morning and appreciate each shift’s challenges and rewards.
And most importantly, never lose sight of your ‘why.’ Why you became a nurse, why you keep at it, why you feel like this is your calling. As long as your ‘why’ is at the heart of your practice, you’ll always have a reason to genuinely and wholeheartedly enjoy what you do.