I was recently thinking back on all the things I have learned over my past three and a half years as a nurse & it’s a lot. Most of it, I didn’t even learn in nursing school. In fact, most of it was learned in real life practice. Through my mistakes and successes, the good days and the bad, I became a nurse.
I thought it would be interesting to write a blog post on advice that I wish I could tell myself as a new nurse, now that I know what it is like. Anyone who is a nurse (also applicable to several other professions) can attest that starting out as a brand new nurse is overwhelming, daunting and challenging. I remember knowing that I learned all of this information in school but it was so different trying to translate everything in practice somehow. It was like I had a big arrow pointed at me that said “NEWBIE NURSE” and I felt insecure in my abilities to be a nurse for a long time. It definitely took a while to become comfortable with my role and my knowledge, and to feel like I was a nurse, not just someone pretending to be one. I remember getting a lot of advice from fellow nurses and friends at the time about how to cope with this transition.
I wish I was able to give myself back then advice from myself now, knowing what I know now. I would tell myself that it is going to be okay- that you know what you are doing more than you think. That a gentle nurses touch can go a long way, and active listening can make any patient feel like a PERSON, not just a patient. That silence is sometimes a good and necessary thing. That your instinct is sometimes more powerful than anything you may have learned in a book, lecture or conference. And that you WILL grow as a nurse, it will become more natural, and you will be confident in your nursing abilities one day. That it is always okay to ask questions, no matter how stupid or crazy you think it is. No one is going to fault you for asking questions, seeking answers and furthering your education. That is the beauty of nursing, it can open many doors for you, if you let it.
I asked a bunch of my nurse friends and colleagues to help pitch in with their advice they would give their younger selves and the results were beyond amazing and powerful. Not only do I think they are a good guide for new nurses, but also serve to be true for any nurse, experienced or not.
Advice to your Younger Self as a Newer Nurse:
- If you don’t know, just ASK. There’s no way anyone can possibly remember everything from nursing school- plus every hospital/unit is a little different. Also, don’t feel like an idiot for not knowing! “Veteran” nurses will be happy that you’re attempting to do things right. (I personally recommend complimenting them on how knowledgable they are before asking them my question- everyone loves a compliment!)
- Asking questions does not make you dumb! Ask ask ask! Ask things you don’t know, ask things you think you may know but want a second opinion. Ask anyone. Ask doctors ask nurse practitioners ask respiratory therapists, physical therapists, anyone and everyone. The more you know, the more confident you will become.
- Never stop asking questions!
- Stay calm, think before you speak and listen!
- If you’re unsure of something– seek out experienced nurse for some feedback and advice. No question is a dumb question.
- Go with your gut… If you feel like something’s wrong with your patient there usually is. Nurses intuition is a real thing.
- Join a military branch, become an officer with goal of retiring from the military. Excellent benefits for rest of life, health etc.
- Nobody loves staying in the hospital so be extra sensitive to the emotional piece. Patients and families might not be themselves when they are flooded with worries/fears. Be kind, be understanding and you’ll be more resilient.
- Listen. I mean, really listen. Hear what people are saying without the words. Everyone has a different story and you are only seeing a tiny snapshot of their life. Don’t judge. Instead listen. Listen to their bodies. Listen to their tone. Listen to their eyes and their face. They say so much more than what you ask.
- Nursing gives you the opportunity to explore your interests, you can’t possibly have covered all the different types of patients to care for in nursing school (elderly, med surg, cardiac, cancer, pedi, mother baby, ICU, surgical,neurological) take a chance that something you haven’t experienced yet might be your true passion. And don’t be afraid to change it up and learn nursing in different settings, the hospital is not for everyone. Take advantage of the fact your license allows you to be a lifetime student, constantly learning.
- Always remember you were once a student…so when you have an opportunity to mentor a new nurse…think of what your mentor did to help you…and do the same. Not only will you help someone else but you will grow in the process
- After a few years of consulting – An easy one is to put your cell phones away. Be present. Make sure your attention is on the patient and your fellow staff members. Save the face-spacing to break time. Healthcare is personal, important and intimate, treat it that way.
- Make a mental list of things you can “fix”and things you can’t! Some things can’t be fixed, and some things just shouldn’t be! Learning that lesson helped me prioritize my care and keep my sanity in the ICU. And advocate for your patients, even when it’s not easy to do so!
- Never be afraid to ask questions… take those patients that scare you the most… be forgiving, 1) towards others, we haven’t walked in their shoes, no matter how much we THINK we know about them, and 2) towards yourself, cut yourself some slack, do your very best always, and if you weren’t as successful with something as you had hoped, scrutinize, learn, then move on. … and always listen to your gut!
What advice would you give to your younger self as a new nurse? Or what advice would you give to any new nurse?
(Special thank you to all you awesome nurse friends who posted in response to my question-prompt on my facebook page that helped to contribute to this post! You know who you are!)