Survival Tips for First-Year Nurses

It’s an exciting time. The end of your training in nursing school is approaching, and you’re eager to embark on a new career. But perhaps you’re also a bit anxious about discovering what it’s really like on the wards, too? Maybe you’ve heard about how many new nurse graduates drop out during their first two years on the job, because of the demanding transition from student to staff nurse.

First, take some comfort in knowing everyone has these feelings as they approach graduation. Then prepare yourself for the new life experiences that await you, with a few sensible actions, ideally planned and undertaken before you’re in the thick of things at work:

Know the Lay of the Land

Working in a hospital environment for the first time can be as overwhelming as visiting a foreign country, and it comes with the added pressures of patient care. If possible, limit the effects of culture shock by working or training in the locale where you’ll be a staff nurse, before graduation. By familiarizing yourself with the rules, procedures, and interpersonal dynamics particular to your future place of work, there’ll be that much less to overwhelm you when you’re starting the job.

If you can’t train at a place of employment before the job begins, try to be an observer there for at least a few hours, to get a good sense of what the work environment is like. And, before accepting any job offer, find out what the employer’s turnover rates for nurses are. Anything above 20% is considered high, and may be an indicator of how well or not the employer supports new nursing staff.

Start on a Unit that Will Help You Ease into Things

Being responsible for patient care is demanding enough under any circumstances, but there are certain wards that might be better suited for a new staff nurse than others. If you can, try to start in a specialty unit with a narrow type of patient population, as they’ll typically present you with a narrower range of problems. For example, it might be easier to learn the ins and outs of a coronary-care unit or a labor and delivery ward, as opposed to a med-surg ward with patients ranging from teenagers to octogenarians, and representing the entire gamut of health issues in Surgery and Internal Medicine.

Find Your Mentors

As early as possible, find the people who are responsible for explaining things to you. Who will oversee your orientation? Does your employer sponsor a preceptor program? Who can you turn to at work for social, clinical, and emotional support? Whatever the situation, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone had to start out at some point, and those who remember their early experiences might be invaluable in helping you whenever you might not be sure about something. Lean on the people who know, and remember, it’ll take months for you to truly get your bearings.

Develop Good Habits

Ask your mentors and those more experienced than you how they keep up with all the demands that present themselves over the course of a shift. For example, some nurses advise taking care of documentation as soon as possible, instead of waiting to do it at the end of your shift, because by then you may well have forgotten certain details. Others suggest keeping a diary on hand, in which you can record actions that need to be taken, and questions you’ll want to find the answers for later – otherwise, given all the unexpected issues that can crop up while on duty, you may lose track of certain tasks and objectives.

Plan Your Break

It’s not just the hours and physical toll that you need to keep in mind, it’s the mental exhaustion that comes from constantly being exposed to new information and situations. Get plenty of sleep when your shift is over, but, even with appropriate periods of rest, recognize you’ll still probably need to take a break, about three months into the new job. Plan for this eventuality by arranging to have vacation time during this period. That way you’ll have a chance to recharge your batteries before burnout becomes a factor.

A career as a health care professional is as demanding as it is rewarding, especially when you’re starting out. But, by anticipating what the challenges are, and taking a few pre-emptive measures to address them, you can ensure that your time wearing a nurse uniform is a long and fulfilling one.

Survival Tips for First-Year Nurses