Nurse Essentials – 15 Things Every Nurse Needs

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As a new nurse, aside from the daily thoughts of, “What am I doing, I don’t know anything”; the other thoughts that consumed me were often, “What do I need to take to work?  What items do I need to make my shift better?  What are the “nurse essentials” that I need to buy?”  Now, having been a nurse for 8+ years, I can share with you exactly what every nurse needs in order to make his or her shift run smoothly.


By the way, if you’re a new nurse reading this, don’t miss:  6 Essential Tips for New Nurses


Nurse Essentials – 15 Things Every Nurse Needs


1.  Work Bag

I like to have a work bag, separate from any bag that I use not at work, simply because your work bag goes to the hospital with you, oftentimes is on the floor or in undesirable places, and just gets a bit… gross.  When you’re looking for a work bag, here’s what you should consider…

  • Do you want a backpack or a shoulder bag?  If you’re carrying a lot of things around like books, etc you might want to consider a backpack to distribute weight more evenly.
  • Are you walking to work or driving?  If you’re walking to work again, you might want to consider a backpack just to help with weight distribution and to keep your arms/hands free.
  • How much will you be bringing in your work bag?  This will determine what size of bag you need.

These are some of my favorite bags for nurses to take to work:

  • MATEIN “Nurse Backpack”
  • Fjallraven “Kanken Backpack” – I personally use this one because it’s so lightweight and I don’t carry many things with me to work; plus I like that you can choose from tons of different colors!  I would not recommend it however, if you’re going to be carrying a lot of things around because it doesn’t hold much.
  • Trunab “Nurse Tote”
  • Kimoli “Cosmetic Pouch” – While I certainly wouldn’t use this pouch for makeup, I love it for putting loose pens, misc items in so that you can easily grab it when getting report!


2.  Lunch Box

Unless you plan to buy your food from the cafeteria each shift or eat takeout, you’re definitely going to need a lunch box to take to work.  I suggest a lunch box that has an area for a “ice pack” just in case your shift is busy or you’re late to work and don’t have time to run and put your lunch in the refrigerator right away.  I also suggest a lunch box that’s a bit atypical so that you don’t have the same as anyone else.  Every couple of months at work there’s always an incident of one nurse who accidentally took another nurses lunch home because their lunch boxes were the same.

Here are a few lunchboxes I would recommend:

  • LOVINA “Bento Box Adult Lunch Box” – I love this option that comes with silverware, an ice pack, and is easy to pack!  However, it’s a bit small if you’re someone that takes breakfast, lunch, and snacks to work it might not be the best.
  • FineDine “8-Piece Insulated Lunch Box Set” – I love the size of this one and that it comes with Tupperware!
  • Weitars “Lunch Bag” – This one is great for style (it doesn’t look as much like a lunch box), plus there are two separate storage areas if you want to keep some food hot and some food cold.


3.  Hand Cream

I am someone who gets incredibly dry hands then add on being in a dry hospital setting, and using hand sanitizer hundreds of times throughout my shift and my hands always end up cracked and bleeding.  I’ve tried TONS of different options for hand cream to remedy this issue, but have only come up with two good options for now.

  • Medline “Remedy Phytoplex Nourishing Skin Cream” – If your hospital has hand lotion, this is more than likely the lotion that they have available.  With that being said, if your hospital does not have this lotion available, I would suggest bringing some with you to work because it’s been a game changer for my hands.  (Unfortunately, you can’t purchase the smaller option because you have to buy in bulk).
  • Aquaphor Healing Ointment – Aquaphor is my favorite hand cream – even outside of work.  While I use it religiously outside of the hospital, I also began using it inside the hospital as well and it has done wonders for my dry hands.  My only issue is that Aquaphor is very greasy so it can be difficult to use gloves, etc.  I like to put it on before my shift, during my breaks, and then once I leave.


4.  Water Bottle

Another nurse necessity, a good water bottle!  Unfortunately, at times, it can be very hard to get breaks at work so I highly recommend a good water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout your shift.  When looking for a water bottle I suggest something that will stay cold, and something BIG so that you don’t have to run around and refill it.  I’m an avid user of S’well and have really never used anything else!

My go to S’well water bottles for a long shift:

  • Roamer Bottle – This bottle is a beast holding 64 fl oz!  I personally take this water bottle to work with me and while it can get heavy, it’s one of the only ways I get my water in during my shift.
  • Water Bottles – If you can’t commit to getting a water bottle a big as the Roamer Bottle, I suggest browsing the other options instead!  Remember, it might be difficult to refill your bottle throughout your shift so choose the size accordingly.


5.  Fun Badge Reel

Having a fun badge reel can really show your personality and be a great conversation starter on your unit.  Plus, if you’re working at a hospital where you’re not able to wear your own scrubs – a badge reel can really make you stand out and personalize your work “outfit”!

My favorite badge reels on the market are Badge Beauties.


6.  Stethoscope

As a nurse, you’re definitely going to need a stethoscope to assess your patients.  Now, before going and buying a stethoscope – make sure that your hospital doesn’t provide you with  one!  If you’re a NICU nurse, there is a good chance that your hospital will provide stethoscopes to each patient.  (If your hospital doesn’t provide stethoscopes in the NICU, you can purchase here).


7.  Writing Utensils

You’re going to need LOADS of writing utensils as a nurse, and I suggest buying more than you think you’ll need because chances they go missing are high.  I like to have a few different types of writing utensils with me for different reasons…

  • SHARPIE Permanent Markers – I like to keep a sharpie on me in case I need to cross out any patient identifiers before throwing things in the trash.
  • SHARPIE Color Burst Permanent Markers – I use these fine-tip pens for getting report!  I love that I can choose different colors and write down different things in different colors to make everything stand out.  For instance, I write all *critical* information (labs, tests, etc) in red, anything the doctor will need to know during rounds in a different color, and then all other information in a third color.  (It’s the little things at work that make me happy!).
  • Retractable Multi-Colored Pens – I use these types of pens for “on the go” if something were to change with my patient and I want to write it down in a different color so I don’t forget and it stands out.  (By the way, I like that these ones can clip on your badge reel so you always have one handy!).


8.  Notebooks

As a new grad nurse I religiously carried notebooks around so that I could jot down notes and learn along the way.  Even now I still carry around sticky pads to remember important things that happened during my shift and/or remind myself of things to do!


9.  Headband with Buttons

Since medical professionals are now required to mask up in the hospitals, something that I don’t think will be changing for a while, I also recommend purchasing a headband with buttons to save your ears from irritation.  I like these ones from Huachi.


10.  Compression Socks

Another thing that will absolutely save you are compression socks.  Compression socks not only help with swelling (and being on your feet for 12+ hours can cause a lot of swelling), but they also help prevent spider veins as you age.  I’ve tried tons of different compression socks and my go-to are Dr. Segal’s.  Use code “KYLEE15” for 15% off your first purchase.


11.  Comfortable Shoes

I’ve tested any tons of shoes at work and go back and forth between Nike and New Balance being my favorites.  I personally, don’t like “clogs” so don’t recommend them and instead would always go with tennis shoes.


12.  Long Sleeve Under Shirts

One item that I didn’t realize I needed when I first started as a nurse, were long sleeve under shirts!  The hospital can be incredibly cold and because you should be bare below your elbows, scrubs don’t typically come in long sleeve options.  Plus, hospitals are often more strict about jackets than they are about under shirts so I recommend buying a few under shirts that can easily be pushed above your elbow when you’re handling patients.

I like this SIVVAN pack of three in white, black, and grey.


13.  T-Shirts

While this doesn’t necessarily fall under the “nursing essentials” category, I love wearing t-shirts to work instead of scrub tops.  Not only are they generally much more comfortable, but they also show a little bit of personality which I always think is fun!  (Before purchasing, check to see if your hospital allows you to wear t-shirts to work instead of scrub tops).

The Minimal Nurse and Riot Healers both have some of my very favorite t-shirt designs!  (If it’s your first time purchasing from Riot Healers, use code RHXKYLEE10 for 10% off your first order).


14.  Scrubs

Scrubs are an essential to every nurse (and every medical professional), which is why it’s important to invest in scrubs that you love and feel good in.  I personally prefer to Wear FIGS because I love each design and the colors!  (By the way, if you’re new to Wear FIGS this link will allow you to get $20 off your FIRST purchase of $100+).


15.  Sleep Mask

Lastly, a sleep mask is an ESSENTIAL for any nurse working the night shift, and if you’re a new nurse… chances are, that’s you.  I use the Manta Sleep mask and absolutely love it!  It stays on my face while I’m sleeping, is completely black out, and allows me to open my eyes if I want to.


And that is it!  Your complete list of “nurse must haves” for work.  Whether you’re a new grad or an experienced nurse I hope that this list of nurse essentials aids you in having a better, more comfortable shift.  And if there’s anything else that you recommend to have as a nurse, let me know in the comments below!


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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