New grads: You can do it!

By | 2022-02-18T14:27:27-05:00 June 26th, 2012|4 Comments

You made it! You survived nursing school, passed the NCLEX and landed your first job. All should be well, right? Maybe not. Like most new grads, you probably feel scared, overwhelmed and unprepared for the challenges ahead. Once you’re out of school and hit with the reality of your chosen profession, you can feel overwhelmed, no matter how thorough your education.

The good news is no one expects you to know everything when you graduate. In fact, you’re still very much a student, except the classroom now is your workplace. I used to say I never learned anything until I got out of school. Although that wasn’t completely true, it sometimes felt that way. Consider your first job to be phase 2 of your education.

So what can you do to survive (or better yet thrive) during your first year out there? Here are some tips to get you started:

Be patient with yourself. You’re just starting out. Take time to learn and gain experience. Most seasoned nurses agree it takes a good year to become somewhat comfortable and two years to be able to handle most situations. Go easy on yourself and think about how far you’ve already come. Even the most competent nurse once started out exactly where you are now.

Focus on the positive. While it’s human nature to dwell on the negative, if you focus on the positive, it will become your reality. At the end of each day, reflect on what you learned and on at least one good thing you did for someone. Write it down, look at it and fall asleep with that thought in mind. Keep a positive journal of the times you made a difference or helped someone, including any nice things people say about you. Review it often.

Help others. It’s never too soon to lend a helping hand to a coworker. You might even learn something in the process. Show your willingness to help, and others will do the same for you. Be sure to extend yourself to students and other new grads who follow you. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Align yourself with positive, competent people. Experienced and friendly people are all around. Buddy up with those after whom you’d like to model yourself. A person doesn’t have to have the same title as you for you to learn something from him or her. Many RNs have told me they learned everything they know from an experienced LPN.

Show some initiative. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do a procedure. Seek out opportunities to get the experience you need. If certain procedures aren’t done with any frequency on your unit, talk to your preceptor, unit educator or nurse manager about getting that experience elsewhere. If a certain procedure is going to be done on your unit, see if you can participate (or at least observe). Show your willingness to learn.

Build good relationships. Don’t wait for others to approach you. Introduce yourself to coworkers on all three shifts, physicians and others. Have lunch with someone you don’t know, and get to know him or her better. Learn co-workers’ names, and use them. Say good morning and good night to everyone. Become part of the team.

Keep learning. Use your drug reference guide, the Internet, policy and procedure manuals and other resources. Ask questions, observe experienced people and ask more questions. Remember, you have to do something for the first time only once. Then it starts to be old hat. Do your homework at the end of each day, and look up things that are new to you. Remember this is phase 2 of your education.

Join professional associations. Become a member of your state chapter of the American Nurses Association and specialty association. These affiliations help you stay on the cutting edge, provide support and help, offer educational programs and give you a forum to share ideas. Attend meetings, join a committee and look for mentors. Don’t stay isolated within your department and your facility. Become part of the greater whole, and develop close ties with your colleagues on state and national levels.

Track your progress. We all have a tendency to look at where we are now and where we still want to go. We lose sight of the progress we’ve already made and keep making. Consider starting a log. Record your accomplishments periodically, including any new procedures you do. Start with what you’ve already done, including getting through school and passing the NCLEX, and keep adding to it. Review it on a regular basis to see how far you’ve really come.

Manage your stress. Stress is not something to be tolerated; it should be managed. Everyone has stress in his or her life. As caregivers, we’re particularly susceptible. Make time to socialize, engage in leisure activities and hobbies, exercise, meditate and so on. That way, you’ll have more to give your patients, your family and yourself.

Stay focused, and keep moving forward. With the passage of time, you’ll become more confident and comfortable in your new profession. You can do it! How do I know that? Because I once was right where you are now. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be giving advice to new grads or writing a career advice column for nurses. I’ve come a long way since I got out of school more than 30 years ago, and you will, too. Hang in there. It’s definitely worth it. You can do it. I know you can!


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  1. Avatar
    Lonnie Evans LVN /CMA December 3, 2015 at 12:58 am - Reply

    thank you so much for this column its a great help!

  2. Avatar
    Taylor October 4, 2016 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Thank you! I needed this!

  3. Avatar
    Leah October 11, 2016 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    Hi everyone,
    I’m a brand new nurse. It took a while to get started on this path, but I graduated at the top of my class and I know this is what I’m meant to do…but I’m struggling a lot at my first job, which is in long term care, and I could really use some advice. Maybe this column or the people following it could help me out?

    I’ve been orienting with so many different people and sometimes just left on my own and it’s been really confusing. I recently got yelled at because an order wasn’t done, but I didn’t know how to do it and my orienting nurse left for the day. I stayed late (like usual) to finish charting. I asked the next nurse on and she said that since the order wasn’t in place until the next day, I could just take care of it the next day. Turns out that was incorrect information. Also the next day, the nurse orienting me called in sick so I was on my own trying to figure out that order, as well as many other problems, from the day before.

    Since I’m not getting much guidance, I was hoping I could get some support from more experienced nurses online. I have so many questions and I’m sure there are things that haven’t even come up yet, so any advice you can give me is greatly appreciated!

    First problem: The doctor for the facility has a PA who comes out to do orders and he won’t check out the patients, unless he has a scheduled meeting. He’s gotten mad at me for bothering him by letting him know that patients or family members want to see him. I do agree that some of the requests are not urgent enough for a doctor or PA visit (some include in general not feeling well or a lot of times bowel problems), but what do I tell these people when they want to see the doctor or PA? I can’t just say that they don’t see patients for minor complaints like that. What’s a nice way of putting it?

    Another issue with the PA is that he gets very…testy…to say the least. If you bother him with anything you better have substantiated evidence that something is wrong. So how can I be prepared to go to him with patient problems…for example I know that I should always have admitting and current diagnoses, a medication list, and recent vitals for the patient I’m asking about. What else could help me be prepared?

    As far as orders go…
    -Nutrition and speech orders: I think I need to make a diet slip, send one copy to the kitchen and keep one copy in the patient chart, change the diet in the MAR, write the order for the chart, and put the original copy in the doctor’s book to be reviewed and signed. It’s a lot of filing, but I think I have that down…right?
    -Labs: I make a lab order form, put that in the lab book, and leave the original order in the chart
    -Medication changes: Change the med in the MAR by discontinuing the last one if needed and writing the new one, fax the order to the pharmacy, call the pharmacy to STAT the med if needed, and file the order in the chart.

    I know there’s so much more, so anything you can clarify for me or give me a heads up on is SO GREATLY appreciated! I really need this job…
    Thank you!

  4. Avatar
    Kim July 30, 2017 at 4:40 am - Reply

    I know this post is dated, I really hope things have changed for the better. It seems the facility you work for isn’t concerned as needed for their residence, and your professional guidance and success.
    I would be very careful in a facility such as this one. Sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

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