Your first year as a new nurse can be exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. From dealing with patients to managing doctors, celebrating the good days and navigating the bad ones, we asked some of our recent nursing graduates for their tips on settling into your first job.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Remember that you’re still learning
You won’t know everything when you’re first starting out, and your colleagues won’t expect you to. While your nursing program and clinical experience were good preparation for your first real nursing job, you will encounter situations that you’ve never dealt with before.
Rather than letting these moments discourage or intimidate you, use them as learning opportunities. If you make a mistake, try to understand where you went wrong and make an effort to do better the next time. Your colleagues and supervisors will recognize your efforts to improve, and they’ll be willing to help you learn, says Gary Rhinehart, a recent nursing graduate of Herzing University.
“The most important way you improve your confidence as a nurse is to get better at the things that you struggle with most,” he adds.
“If you continually practice the skill that makes you feel the least confident, I guarantee you’ll slowly get better at it. By practicing and honing your skills, you will gradually build confidence in yourself and your abilities.”
2. There’s no such thing as a stupid question
Even if you’re worried you’ll look stupid in front of your team, you’re better safe than sorry when it comes to asking questions. A simple mistake can quickly turn into a life-or-death situation, so if you’re not sure about what to do next, it’s better to ask.
“Know how to keep your patient safe and never assume anything,” says Herzing nursing graduate Shenese Stewart. “Always ask questions, especially if it’s something you need to know to stay safe.”
3. You might not find your specialty right away – and that’s okay
It might take you some time to figure out what kind of nurse you want to become. There are a lot of different career paths you can pursue, from the ER to oncology. If you find you chose the wrong position, don’t be afraid to look something that’s a better fit.
“I recently had a colleague say she felt like a failure because she did not like the hospital setting, and people were telling her that the hospital is ‘real nursing.’ That is simply not true. It’s important to find the path you love, or you will be miserable and ineffective,” Stewart advises.
4. Working on different units can help you gain experience
If you’re not sure whether you’re in the right role, take advantage of the opportunity to explore different nursing environments and specialties. You can accomplish this through job shadowing or volunteering for the hospital float pool.
“The point of the float pool is that whenever any floor needs an extra staff member, the shift is yours if you want it. This will automatically open so many doors for you because you will not be assigned to the same unit every week,” says Herzing nursing graduate Zahra Mohammed.
“You might find yourself working in ICU one night, the ER the next night, and so on. Working the float pool is one way that you can dip your toes into all specialties and see what you like. You will eventually find something you enjoy.”
5. Soft skills will be key to your success
From establishing a rapport with patients to working alongside doctors and other members of the healthcare team, communication, teamwork and critical thinking are essential skills for new nurses. Focus on developing these in addition to your nursing skills. Doing so will help you provide a better experience for your patients and will help you form strong relationships with your colleagues.
“Your attitude, work ethic and integrity will determine your success. Your ability to be flexible and adapt to a quickly changing environment will allow you to be effective in the workplace,” says Stewart.
6. Advancing your education can help you take advantage of new opportunities
As you gain experience in the nursing field, you might discover that you’re interested in advancing your career and pursuing specific specialties, such as nurse education or advanced practice nursing. Pursuing your MSN will allow you to take advantage of these opportunities.
“I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2017 and it wasn’t long before I started thinking about advancing my education with an MSN,” says Joleen Brewer, who is currently enrolled in Herzing’s Family Nurse Practitioner program. “I have a passion for teaching and I wanted to do more for my patients and help them learn how to lead healthier lives. Becoming a nurse practitioner seemed like the perfect next step for me.”
It’s normal to feel nervous about starting a new job, but hopefully those first few weeks will feel a little less intimidating thanks to these insider tips from your fellow nursing graduates. Remember, this is only the beginning of your nursing career journey! The best is yet to come.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.