My first year as a nurse was a roller coaster ride

By | 2021-03-12T15:59:47-05:00 May 21st, 2018|9 Comments

Just like a roller coaster, there were ups and downs — but my first year as a nurse was always exciting.

After the NCLEX is out of the way, some may say one of the hardest parts of the nursing journey is over. There’s no denying that nursing school is tough, but life as a new graduate nurse brings its own brand of challenges — some of which can make a new nurse feel unprepared.

My first year as a nurse began three weeks after my June 2017 graduation. Happiness, anxiety, nervousness, I experienced them all — frequently.

Although my undergraduate degree provided the foundation of my nursing knowledge, my first nursing job showed me what it truly meant to be a nurse, what to do and what not do.

First year as a nurse do’s

Be a team player — Having a solid unit requires teamwork. When a co-worker is struggling, see how you can help. Some people are too timid to ask. Take the initiative. The colleague you assisted will surely return the favor one day.

Be an advocate — Nurses are meant to be leaders and advocates at the bedside. Whether a language barrier, sensory impairment or something else keeps patients from advocating for themselves, we can do it for them. Our voices are integral to ensuring a patient’s holistic needs are met.

Be prepared for the unexpected — Anything can happen at any moment. Adaptability during an unexpected event tests your strengths as a nurse. I remember a day in which one minute I was telling a co-worker my shift was going well and the next minute a rapid response was called on a patient in my care. Before long, the whole team arrived on the scene. I try to stay mentally prepared for such a shift in focus or circumstances.

Make sure your off-work hours are fulfilling — My dream was always to volunteer during my first year as a nurse, and I lived that dream in January when I volunteered in Haiti. The medical mission increased my drive to become a more competent nurse. If you feel burned out at your regular job, try to find new adventures in which you still can use your talents as a nurse but give you a fresh perspective on the profession.

Console your co-workers when they need it — When a colleague was disheartened about a patient fall, I comforted her and reminded her accidents sometimes happen. Providing emotional support to each other helps build solidarity on the unit.

First year as a nurse don’ts

Don’t contribute to negativity — We all know what workplace violence and bullying among colleagues looks like. “Bad mouthing” can be construed as verbal assaults. Avoid participating in or perpetuating these negative, destructive actions.

Don’t take your work home — You work hard and do your best every day. But you need to leave it all behind at the end of your shift. Remember nursing is a continuation of care, from shift to shift, day to day.

Don’t forget about self-care — Plan ahead for your next day off and spend it doing something you enjoy, whether it’s spending time with your pet, family, a group of friends or a hobby. It will re-energize you.

Don’t hold yourself to too high a standard — This is something I struggled to accept. As a student, I was a perfectionist. When I stepped foot into clinical nursing, I expected the same. But mistakes will happen and someone might call you out about the error. But your weakest moments can make you a more competent nurse in the long run.

Don’t judge “frequent flyers” — Patients are said to be “frequent flyers” when they are admitted time and again for the same diagnosis, often because they are noncompliant. But there is always hope, and it’s our job to reignite the light if it’s dimming. Speak gently, but frankly, with them about how you can help them help themselves. The holistic view of nursing theory is important, so ask if they have support at home, how they are managing their medications and what barriers are impeding their progress. If we sit down and listen to our patients more, it will help us as well as them.

6 items I can’t live without

My first year as a nurse also made me realize there are items without which I could not effectively do my job. See if you agree.

  1. An unlimited supply of pens and pencils — During your shift, you may walk miles around your unit leaving your writing utensils in the strangest places. So, although it may seem obvious, make sure the supply cabinet (or drawer) is well-stocked. Some of us don’t have time to run to the bathroom, let alone the supply cabinet on another floor!
  2. Mindfulness apps — During my first weeks of orientation, I was petrified when I entered the unit. I would play a mindfulness-based app while sitting in my car and meditate for five minutes to mentally prepare for the day.
  3. Fitness goals — I found yoga to be a great way to let everything go and feel renewed after each day.
  4. Nurse organizer/calendar app — These apps make switching shifts with co-workers easy.
  5. Clipboard with important notes — My trusty clipboard holds a laminated sheet of important hospital numbers, policies and procedures. It keeps me from asking the same questions over and over again.
  6. Healthy foodsNutritious snacks are a must, especially when working the night shift. Night nurses have a higher risk for obesity due to circadian rhythm disturbances.
  7. Extra scrubs — I remember when a patient vomited directly onto the front of my scrub pants and I didn’t have an extra pair. It took a bit of time to get a clean set. You never know what will happen, and there’s no drawback to having an extra pair in your locker. Being prepared will get me back to my patients a lot sooner and — even after a year of ups and downs — that’s where I still want to be.

Courses related to ‘building nursing skills on the job’

60107: Coaching: An Essential Skill for Nurses
(5.60 contact hrs)
Leaders in nursing, from the senior management team to the charge nurse and the staff nurse on the front line, can improve performance, facilitate exceptional teamwork, and enhance professional development with coaching. The Institute of Medicine’s “Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” report recommends nurses become full partners with other healthcare professionals in redesigning healthcare. Many nurses will require coaching to participate at a higher level in policymaking. This course describes the coaching style necessary to develop staff members in their quest for outstanding patient care. The concepts and coaching skills described in this course will provide the map to transforming your unit and your organization.

60076: Document It Right: A Nurse’s Guide to Charting
(5.2 contact hrs)

From the earliest beginnings of the nursing profession, nurses have carefully recorded their observations of patients and their interventions to help patients recover from illness and achieve optimal health. In the beginnings of the profession, the primary purpose of nurses’ notes was to verify that physician orders were completed. Today, professional nurses are vital partners with other healthcare professionals, and nursing documentation is an essential part of comprehensive patient care. Although documentation has always been an important part of nursing practice, the increasingly complex healthcare environment, litigious society and the diversity of settings in which patients receive care require that nurses pay more attention to documentation. The computerized patient record has become standard practice, and the days of repetitive task-oriented narrative notes are becoming part of nursing history.

CE373-60: Emotional Intelligence Helps RNs Work Smart 
(1 contact hr)
Emotional intelligence is a new concept in nursing; initial research studies indicate that EI is an important part of successful nursing practice. Although research on EI is at the developmental stage, regardless of the theoretical framework used, there is agreement that EI includes the concepts of emotional awareness in relation to self and others, professional efficiency and emotional management. Applying EI concepts to nursing has the potential to support professional nursing practice and to improve patient outcomes. This module will discuss the concept of EI, describe how it can help nurses enhance their work lives and provide strategies for developing one’s own EI.


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About the Author:

Alexander Salinas
Alexander Alvaro Salinas, BSN, RN, is a med/surg nurse on a Head Neck Thoracic Oncology and Hospice Unit at Sisters of Charity Hospital, Buffalo, N.Y.. He received his BSN from University at Buffalo and is currently an MSN student at Pennsylvania State University.


  1. Avatar
    Stephanie Soda May 21, 2018 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    What a great post about how to learn the nursing ropes during your first year. Some great tips as well! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Avatar
    Tom May 21, 2018 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    I thought it was interesting that you use a mindfulness app to meditate, and also an organizer/calendar app. Which organizer/calendar app is it?

    • Sallie Jimenez
      Sallie Jimenez May 23, 2018 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      Response from Alex Salinas:

      Hi Tom,

      Thank you for the question. I currently use nursegrid. This app helps me organize my schedule and allows me to see when my nurse colleagues are working.

      — Alex

  3. Avatar
    Margaret May 23, 2018 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Great post Alex! Yes, getting through school and the boards gets you on the floor. But that’s where you really learn nursing!

  4. Avatar
    chitrali Nath May 24, 2018 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Nice post

  5. Avatar
    The Apprentice Doctor June 24, 2018 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Nursing school is difficult, no doubt, but it pales in comparison to the first year working as a nurse. New nurses face many obstacles they may not have even fathomed while in school. Whether you landed a position in your dream unit or had difficulty securing the first job, the first year out for any nurse is challenging.

  6. Avatar
    Masscv March 25, 2019 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Great article! Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Avatar
    Edna Bishop October 6, 2019 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed the read #Nurse Bishop

  8. Avatar
    MANISHA November 9, 2021 at 12:54 am - Reply


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