New nurses are joining the US healthcare system at a time of change.
As well as recovering from a dreadful pandemic, hospitals and clinics are experiencing a significant shortage of medical professionals to manage the provision of care. Your skills are required urgently, and there will be challenges ahead.
However, your new colleagues, grateful patients, and the potential for career advancement will make it all worthwhile. During your time in college or university, you will learn the competencies needed to work as a nurse, but learning how to do well on the job is more complex. Here, we’ll cover some of the best ways to succeed in your first year and how to take advantage of all the rewards this incredible career has to offer.
What can I expect to do as a first-time nurse?
New nurses deliver healthcare, education, and support to patients who are sick or injured. Working from a school, ambulance, or medical facility, they will assist many different patients, depending on the field they have chosen.
As well as keeping patients safe and well, new nurses will also be put in charge of evaluating their progress and monitoring their vital signs. To excel, nurses will draw upon their communication, critical thinking, and relationship-building skills.
Educational excellence is essential
In the early days of your career as a nurse, life will be extremely busy, and you will need to fall back on what you’ve learned in school. That’s why it’s crucial to pick a program that delivers a good grounding in practical skills, as well as academic excellence. At Rockhurst University, students will see the advantages of a BSN in nursing from day one.
They will receive a thorough education in nursing practice along with a clinical placement to build their practical experience and can expect to graduate in just 16 months. For any new nurse, good preparation is often the key to making a positive start in their career.
Be ready to introduce yourself
Although you might feel awkward or shy on your first day in a new job, the best way to get started is to introduce yourself. Speak to everyone who you’ll be working with on the unit, as well as people in other departments who you might be in regular contact with.
This could include the pharmacists who will help with dispensing medication, physical therapists with whom you might share a patient and an administrative assistant who can assist with organizational queries. However, the nurses and doctors who make up your immediate healthcare team will be the people you get to know best over time, so be sure to strike up a conversation with each of them on your first day.
Simply saying hello and smiling while you introduce yourself is a good way to begin. Also, if you have trouble remembering people’s names, and there will be plenty to remember, try to repeat each colleague’s name as they say it.
Always ask questions when you need to
Your more experienced colleagues will not expect you to know everything on your first day. Therefore, if you have questions or concerns, it’s better to get them out in the open, rather than trying to ignore the issue. Your charge nurse, team leader, or another senior nurse can usually help. If you are not sure who to approach, speak with your designated supervisor for advice.
The responses of your colleagues can reassure you that you are doing things correctly, so always request clarification, even if you feel intimidated by a senior physician or nurse. You’ll be respected for advocating for yourself and your patients and could avoid making an uninformed decision that might compromise a person’s care.
Remember that patients are your priority
New nurses are juggling many different responsibilities. Along with providing care, you’ll be expected to work as part of a team, communicate effectively with colleagues, and document everything you do. With so much on your ‘to-do’ list, it can be easy to forget why you trained to be a nurse. Primarily, you are there to treat your patients, and they should be your first priority. Keep them safe, monitor their wellness, and make sure they are comfortable.
Your confidence will grow in time
In the first few weeks and months, it can seem like everyone is in their groove except you. It’s a common problem for any new employee, but as you gain more nursing experience, your confidence will grow. Keep an open mind, learn from others, and be ready for anything and you’ll soon settle into this exciting role.
Get yourself a mentor to provide support and guidance
Finding another nurse, a physician, or a senior co-worker who is willing to be your mentor can help in the early days. You can let them know about your concerns, ask questions, learn new skills, and adopt methods that they have refined over the years. By allowing them to educate you and listening to their advice, you can start to build a bond that will be of great benefit in the short and long term.
They will become a friend, as well as a trusted colleague and resources. You won’t always be able to manage a medical situation by applying what you learned from a book. A mentor can fill these knowledge gaps by offering guidance on working in the field. They will tell you about the reality of specific tasks and competencies, ensuring you can carry them out more efficiently and accurately.
Get help with patient care when you need it
Asking for help can make you feel like you’ve failed, but it’s a normal occurrence for new nurses. Admitting that you don’t know when a physician or a patient asks a question is all right because you can find the answer and then get back to them with an accurate response. This ensures your patients are kept safe and you are acting responsibly.
Go back to the reference books for answers
Tools like reference books and medical websites can be useful when you are not sure if you are carrying out a procedure properly. They can also be helpful when you are administering a new type of medication and you need to check a few details. Moreover, if you are unsure of the regulations or policies in your hospital, you can check over these guidelines to be sure that you are completing your tasks as per the rules. You could keep a few tabs open on your phone if you find that specific pieces of information are regularly required.
Practice continual learning at work and at home
Not every nurse wants to take further certifications or return to university to achieve a higher degree, but they all have to remain active learners throughout their careers.
This includes taking notes and carrying out research so that they have a deeper understanding of their patient’s condition or a process they are charged with. When a rare diagnosis is made, it should be treated as an opportunity for learning, but there are also day-to-day proficiencies that you can refine or master.
Attending conferences, taking part in workshops and networking will make you a more competent nurse. Many health professionals keep a small notebook with them to jot down ideas for research that they will review later.
Cultivate solid friendships among colleagues
Authentic friendships can be a huge help in a medical setting. These connections can last throughout your career and ensure you thrive in a demanding role. Only other nurses will understand what you are experiencing, so they can be good people to vent to in difficult times or share stories of success within happier times.
Nurses work alongside many other professionals, but these people often have very different roles. By nurturing friendships with other nurses, you’ll have people who get you and are ready to support you without judging or being shocked by your experiences.
Establish a professional network
Along with finding friends who you can rely on for personal support, building a professional network is also important to your future success. Take every chance that presents itself, from attending conferences to chatting with new co-workers and joining professional organizations.
You might consider subscribing to one or more nursing journals so that you can keep up with the latest healthcare innovations and events. Enhancing your network can lead to more opportunities for career advancement and give you access to a valuable group of professionals.
Go for advanced certifications
There are numerous specialties in nursing, and depending on the pathway you choose, you can earn certifications that give you more responsibility and a better income. They will enhance your current skillsets, boost your knowledge, and make you better at what you do. Committing yourself to continued education and achieving your goals shows your patients, employers, and colleagues that you are dedicated to the job.
Be mindful of self-care
Long shifts, life-and-death situations, and a busy ward can take their toll on a new nurse. To get by and remain healthy, you’ll need to practice self-care. That means maintaining a good level of physical and mental health, as you’ll need to feel well in order to do your job effectively. Start by getting enough sleep – if you struggle to calm down after a hectic day at work, consider listening to music or an audiobook or taking a warm bath before getting into bed.
Furthermore, you should eat wholesome foods and keep yourself hydrated to ensure you have the energy to focus at work. Snack on fruits and nuts that are healthy but give you the stamina you need. Finally, although the pandemic is in the past, it’s still crucial to protect yourself against bacteria and germs. Wash your hands well, use a mask and gloves when working with patients, and be sure to disinfect your equipment.
Be kind to yourself
In the same vein as self-care, being kind and patient with yourself can help you get through stressful times. If you need support, ask a colleague for some feedback to see what they think of your performance. Be receptive to constructive advice and consider ways you could improve, without being hard on yourself.
Excel when it comes to time management
To be sure of scheduling your day and your shift properly, time management skills are essential. Patient care will always be your top priority, but within this area, you’ll also need to consider which person’s needs are the most pressing. Have a set schedule on the ward, but retain a degree of flexibility in case a person’s condition worsens or an emergency situation arises.
Learn about your workplace benefits
A chronic shortage of nurses has led to many facilities trying to tempt new nurses with a whole raft of benefits. Some are basic financial perks and others include childcare access, subsidies for your commute, and paid leave for vacations.
If you took out a student loan to help pay for your education, you could also receive help with the repayments. To ensure you are taking advantage of everything you’re entitled to, look in your employee handbook and speak to your HR manager.
Find ways to adapt to shift work
Many nurses have to work 12 hours shifts, and these can cover early mornings, late nights, and overnights. It can take a while to adjust, but it’s important to fit this new schedule in as part of your lifestyle. Try to get into a routine that you follow every day to help you cope with your shift. This will help you manage both your energy levels and physical health. Over time, it will become easier to get up, arrive at your shift and start work on time. Keep yourself alert and ready for action throughout a shift by taking all your breaks and eating snacks or full meals.
Work on your communication skills
Listening and speaking are the most important aspects of communication for new nurses, so it’s a good idea to think about how you do both. This will help you maintain a good relationship with your colleagues and assist your patients.
They might need you to explain complex medical terms or acronyms in more straightforward language or request a simpler version of the information they have already been given. Pay attention to what they need and what their concerns are.
If things are not going well and you sense a person’s condition is worsening, be ready to speak with a physician. Not all patients will reveal the extent of their condition immediately, but with patience and understanding, you can learn more and ensure they receive the best possible care.
Plan elements of your shift in advance
When you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, work can be easier. Taking a pen and paper with you is a good way of saving time because you’ll always be able to make a note of something important for future use. Comfortable shoes are also useful, as you’ll be walking considerable distances and you don’t want foot pain to become a distraction.
Keeping a pair of additional scrubs in your locker at work or your car can also save time if you get a spillage on your work clothing. You could also speak with your nurse leaders to find out what tips they can offer on planning. Preparing for work in advance gives you a professional edge and can make you feel more confident.
Learn to stay calm
Patients often experience frightening symptoms, and when this happens, they look to their medical team for support. That’s why one of the key skills to work on in the early days of your career is remaining calm when you’re under pressure.
If you allow the stress and anxiety generated by difficult situations or emergencies to show on your face, your patients could become even more distressed. This competency takes time and improves with experience, but you can start by asking for help when necessary and taking deep breaths in times of stress.
Experienced nurses can provide reassurance
As they have been in the same situation, experienced nurses understand that you’ll need to lean on them from time to time. You can ask for their advice on dealing with changes in the provision of healthcare, speak to them about clinical matters, or just use their knowledge to find solutions that you would never have thought of.
Think about the career path you want to follow
In the first year, all you want to do is succeed in your new role and be a good nurse. However, over time, you’ll grow in confidence and be ready to think about your next move. If there are aspects of the job you love, they could lead you to your next role in an organic way.
For instance, if you get a lot out of caring for children, a pediatrics specialization could be ideal. In the first year, you will find your feet, but as a nurse, your career trajectory is not set in stone. This role brings many opportunities, so be sure to explore everything that’s on offer.