Congratulations! You’ve graduated from nursing school, passed your boards, and are ready to begin your journey as a nurse. Looking back over a decade ago when I began my own journey, I remember thinking how prepared I was. How sure I was. And then 4 hours into my first shift, the realization that I knew absolutely nothing set in. If only there was a field guide for new nurses. Simple advice that a new nurse can read in only a few minutes, to prepare him or her for the most intense, humbling, yet satisfying ride of their life.
Here at Matchwell, we think preparation is crucial. So, we’ve gathered our best nurses and asked them: “What is one thing you wish someone told you when you started nursing?”
Sit back, grab your favorite beverage (we like coffee), and learn from the best of the best.
Ask questions- even the most seasoned nurses will ask questions. Beware of those who are afraid or too proud to ask questions. They’re the ones that tend to make mistakes.
Meg DuPloy, BSN, E-CFM
Often people fear that asking questions is a sign of weakness, but being inquisitive is quite the opposite. Asking questions is a sign of emotional intelligence and an art. Seeking feedback from others on your performance or how to better execute certain tasks demonstrates a growth mindset. Nurses with a growth mindset see all opportunities and failures as a path to excellence. Instead of worrying about knowing all the answers, stay focused on asking the right questions.
Open-ended questions are a great place to start but it takes practice! For example, instead of asking a yes or no question: “Did I remove the stitches correctly?” Ask, “tell me about how I removed the stitches.” This method helps you uncover more information and identify areas of improvement quicker.
If you’re burned out in your current role, don’t leave the profession. There are a variety of nursing positions, so explore your options and find a role you love.
Crystal Bowens, DHA, MSN, RN-BC, LNHA, PMP
Even the most passionate and committed nurse will likely reach a crossroads in his or her career due to burnout. If you find you are feeling detached from your patients, ineffective in your role, and physically exhausted, you are likely at a moment in your career where you need a change. And that is ok! It is estimated that 17% of nurses leave in their first year of nursing and 35% in their second year. Due to the ongoing shortage, we can’t afford to lose nurses at this rate! When you find yourself ready to move on, don’t abandon the profession altogether. There are endless opportunities for nurses from bedside, to administration, education, case management, consulting, sales and more. Nurses have valuable skills that can be applied in a multitude of settings.
Be open to feedback. Even when it’s not what you want to hear.
Gina Thompson, MSN, RN, APRN
Nurses are often afraid of receiving feedback on their performace for fear of being seen as weak or incompetent. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about destructive criticism which does little to uplift the individual and is intended to tear someone down or make them feel bad about themselves. New nurses should seek constructive criticism which highlights areas one can improve and fosters growth (Uzuegbunem, 2021).
My favorite question to ask others is, “what’s the broccoli in my teeth?” I learned this question from my boss and mentor who would ask me this periodically. It took me by surprise the first time she asked me. I thought to myself, “why is this extremely successful person asking me to point out a flaw? She doesn’t have any.” But the truth is, we all have flaws and often we don’t know what those flaws are or what it’s like to be on the receiving end of our character defects. Just like broccoli in our teeth, our flaws are overt and obvious to others. We are running around with big, goofy smiles on our faces and all the while we have a huge green chunk in our teeth that everyone sees but is afraid to tell us about. The same way you would never get mad at someone for telling you that you have food in your teeth, be open to feedback on all aspects of your personality and performance. It’s one of the best ways to grow.
Your education never stops. In fact, real learning just started. Always seek out new opportunities to learn.
Melissa Field, BSN, RNC-OB, CBC
Nurses are lifelong learners and there is no shortage of educational opportunities for them. From free continuing education, to blog articles, to podcasts, there are lots of ways nurses can continue to learn. Commit to being a lifelong learner. Competence is a shared responsibility of the nurse and professional organizations. Learning can’t stop after graduation. Your professional practice and patient care depends on it! To learn more about how to continue your education click here.
Get involved and advocate for your profession.
Joy King, DNP, MBA, APRN, NP-C
Often, new nurses think there’s not a place at the table when it comes to strategy and policy development, yet fresh eyes are essential to the progression of the nursing profession. When you’ve been in the weeds for decades, it can be hard to look up and see the big picture with a new perspective. In fact, one of the downsides that we’ve found for those who have been in nursing for more than a decade is the fear of change. New nurses bring a new lens that should be celebrate!
Belonging to a workplace committee can be an opportunity for learning new skills and collaborating with multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary teams. You have the opportunity to engage in conversations and negotiations that help develop new protocols, policies, and procedures. Don’t shy away from opportunities to contribute. Establishing your willingness to learn and serve contributes to creating a positive work culture and gives you an avenue to advocate for your peers. It’s also a great way to enhance your resume or place another feather in your cap!
Make friends with your coworkers.
Meg Reilly, BSN, RN
Look for nurses who are experienced in your specialty area and develop a professional relationship with them. These individuals can act as mentors to further your knowledge and facilitate a therapeutic work environment. Studies have shown that nurses who invest in friendships with other nurses and have strong connections experience less stress on the job than those with weaker friendship ties.
Invest in your mental well-being through mindfulness.
Renee Brand, BSN, RN
Managing clinical work stress is critical not only for patient care, but also for your health and longevity. Mindfulness, awareness of the present moment, is one method to alleviate stress from work. After a stressful and long shift, it is difficult to shut off your mind. Many of us think about “What if?”, “Did I document it?”, and so on. Pausing the mental noise for just a few moments a day facilitates better concentration at work, restful sleep, and most importantly, it protects your mind from being overstretched. Remember, your mind is your most important muscle as a healthcare worker, so it’s vital that you allow it time for respite. Headspace, HelpGuide.org, and Ten Percent Happier are a few places you can start on your road to mindfulness.
Don’t just memorize tasks and checklists - make sure you understand the ‘why’ behind ‘what’ you’re doing.
Lauren Schwartz, MSN, FNP-C, RNC-MNN
As a new nurse, it’s tempting to start to see your job as a series of checklists and tasks. But don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap. Seek to understand the “why” behind every task you perform. Understanding why you do tasks helps to build critical thinking. You will hear a lot about critical thinking as a nurse and most often that nurses need to improve critical thinking as a skill. Reminding yourself why you are completing a certain task (even the most mundane one) threads the theory of nursing into your day-to-day practice which will improve your bedside care and patient outcomes.
Know your I’s and O’s.
Ashley Lenox, BSN, RNC-MNN
Speaking of mundane tasks and understanding the why behind the what, let’s talk about patient I’s and O’s (fluid intake and output). Just like our ABC’s and 123’s, input and output isn’t rocket science. Many times nurses become so busy this is one task we opt to ignore. I remember early in my career being asked by a provider about a patient’s urine output and not really understanding the importance of providing accurate data. Not only does accurate fluid intake and output ensure patients are adequately hydrated, but a decrease in output can be one of the first signs that a patient is becoming unstable. For example, if a patient is becoming septic or is septic, their body starts to divert circulation away from the extremities and kidneys to other vital organs. Noting a decrease in uring output could actually save a patient’s life.
Jump in when something is happening with another nurse’s patient. It’s a great way to build team morale and rapport and you gain experience. Win-win.
Lindsay Melcher, BSN, RNC-MNN
Don’t be shy- jump in! Helping a co-worker with a patient is a great way to build rapport among your team and also provides you an opportunity to learn. My first patient to experience a postpartum hemorrhage was over a decade ago and is still a vivid memory. I recall thinking “ok, it’s happening, don’t mess this up.” My entire team came to the room to support me. I was not alone in the emergency and I was so grateful. I felt closer to those nurses afterwards. It was my first experience in the trenches and as a team, we were about to get the patient’s bleeding under control and into the OR quickly. She recovered soon after. Remember, we will all be overwhelmed at some point in our shift and will hope someone throws us a life-raft in the form of a helping hand.
Take a moment to pause and celebrate the accomplishment of being a nurse. You are starting the journey of a lifetime and a journey that I am forever grateful I have the opportunity to be on. These are just a few tips to get you started. You’ve got this. Do great work.