Being a new nurse is an overwhelming experience. Suddenly transitioning from sitting at a desk, taking tests, and talking through made-up scenarios to being in the real world working through REAL scenarios is challenging! No matter how much schooling you go to, how great your grades are, or how much you’ve mentally prepared…. the truth is that nothing can truly prepare you for the real world of nursing. New nurses are suddenly thrown into life or death scenarios where your critical thinking skills are challenged and you think to yourself, did we ever even talk about this in school?
But fear not; here are my top 6 pieces of advice for new grad nurses.
1. Study… and then study some more
Unfortunately, studying doesn’t stop once you’re done with school. The most important studying that you’ll do will be as a new grad nurse. In nursing school, it’s impossible to go through every scenario that may or may not happen in the hospital. You must take your time as a new nurse to study your butt off. I recommend making a list of things (diseases, pathology, diagnoses, equipment, common medications) that are used/occur to whatever population you’re serving. (For instance, in the NICU my list would look like this: NEC, IVH, caffeine citrate, ventilator, etc). I would start with the most common things and study up on what they mean, how you treat the problem, side effects, etc. I would take this time to be asking your preceptor questions about the things you’ve written down and even asking a doctor to educate you a little bit on each item.
Once you’ve mastered the first thing on your list… move on. If you aren’t yet sure what problems and issues you’ll be dealing with on your unit after you leave your first shift, make a list of everything you didn’t understand and start from there. Each day will bring a new set of challenges but if you start studying early, you’ll be ahead in the long run.
2. Start accumulating CEU’s and attending as many conferences as you can
In the medical world – there will never be a time where you will be able to stop educating yourself. Things are always changing, new research is always coming out, and if you don’t keep up on your education you will quickly fall behind. An easy way to keep learning is by maintaining your CEU’s (continuing education credits), and by attending conferences about your specialty.
What I didn’t know as a new graduate nurse was that each state requires a certain amount of CEU’s to be obtained every time that your nursing license is up for renewal. For instance, California requires 30 CEU’s to maintain licensure while Nebraska requires 20. Licenses expire every 2 years so you have a 2-year time frame to get your CEU’s. CEU’s can be obtained through attending conferences, getting certified in BLS, PALS, NRP, Etc. Or they can be done quickly and easily online through various programs. I tend to get my CEU’s through nurse.com where you pay a $50 fee/year to access different educational programs. I like this website because you can easily filter through subjects that are relevant to you.
Another good way to stay on top of your education while simultaneously earning CEU’s is by attending conferences. I usually find out about conferences in my specialty by the hospital I’m working at. Ask the manager or nurse educator what is on the schedule for that year and if he/she knows of any conferences taking place in neighboring states. Some hospitals will pay for nurses to attend conferences. Make sure to know all of your options before registering.
3. Willingly jump into every scenario with a “can-do” attitude
The best way to gain experience for new grad nurses is to jump into every scenario with a willing attitude and a positive mindset. The fastest way to gain experience is by experiencing everything! As a new nurse, I highly recommend going around your unit and asking each nurse what their plan is for the day and if they have any procedures. I would then tell them that you’re willing to help out, perform, or even watch any procedures that are scheduled. I would then leave your phone number with each nurse so they can easily get ahold of you if something comes up for you to watch or help out with.
If you find that you’re still having trouble gaining experience with certain scenarios I would go to the charge nurse or manager with a list of things that you want to see or learn and ask if you can take care of that patient when the opportunity arises. For example, as a new grad NICU nurse, I had limited experience with ventilators during my orientation. Once I brought up my concerns to the manager I suddenly started getting many more babies that were intubated.
4. Learn to speak up and use your voice
The most essential tips for new grad nurses always involve the ability to use your voice. I can’t stress the importance of speaking up for yourself when you need to. Soon you won’t have a preceptor and you will be on the floor by yourself, responsible for other lives. You need to be able to speak up if you don’t feel comfortable with something, if you don’t feel safe, or you feel like you need more experience. You also need to learn to ask questions if you don’t understand something.
You must use your voice because you are the number one advocate for your patient. If there’s something you don’t feel safe with you need to let your charge nurse know so that you can get some help or education. If you relay information to the doctor that you think is important but they brush over it, ask why. Not to challenge but just to learn. That way you can understand how he/she is thinking of this patient and maybe you asking a question about the situation will cause them to reassess and change their plan of care.
5. Take care of yourself on your days off
My favorite piece of advice for new nurses everywhere is simple. Take care of yourself! Nursing is a hard and stressful profession. If you don’t learn the importance of taking care of yourself on your days off, you are going to burn out quickly.
Self-care can look different for everyone. Maybe you enjoy laying low and relaxing with a face mask and a bubble bath. Or perhaps you blow off steam with your girlfriends at brunch. Maybe you’re like me and value traveling as a way to prevent burnout! Write down a list of things that make you fill your cup and make sure to prioritize those things on your days off work. If you aren’t making your health and wellness a priority at home, eventually it will start to show at work.
6. Remember… you are not alone
My last (and most important) piece of advice for new graduate nurses is to remember that you are not alone. Sometimes it may feel like the world is caving in on you and you have so much to learn. But remember… every single nurse that you are working with has been in your shoes before. We all start in the same position. You just have to grasp the opportunity to use the tools that are given to you and commit to learning something every day. Looking back in a year you will be amazed at what you were able to learn and accomplish. Don’t give up. And if you need help… ask for it.
My 6 new nurse tips are simple. Educate yourself. Speak up. Take care of yourself. And remember that you are not alone. As a new nurse, we need you now more than ever. If you start getting overwhelmed take deep breaths, find an activity that fills your cup, and start again the next day. You got this!
If you’re a new grad who hasn’t interviewed yet, make sure to read: The Best Questions to Ask in a Nursing Interview