April 5, 2021

Nurse Mentors New Grads Transitioning Into The COVID Workforce

Nurse Mentors New Grads Transitioning Into The COVID Workforce

The landscape for nursing has certainly changed in the aftermath of a global pandemic and for nurse graduates especially, there are a lot of changes that can be expected. Virtual interviews? Remote orientation? Taking on a job after sim lab was your only real experience with a patient? Yeah, that’s all happening. 

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It’s a lot to enter the “real” world of nursing as a new RN, but Nurse Alice sat down with Tiffany Gibson, MSN, RN-BC, CPN, GDHL, clinical nurse educator, board-certified professional development specialist, healthcare diversity and inclusion specialist, CEO, and director of New Nurse Academy to chat about some of the challenges–and changes–new nurses can expect. 

Challenges for New Nurse Grads

Gibson spoke to Nurse Alice about some of the changes that have been implemented since the COVID pandemic for new nurse onboarding. For instance, you may be surprised to hear that many nurses are now being interviewed virtually and then, once they are hired, also complete all of their initial orientation and onboarding remotely as well. 

Gibson admitted that she wasn’t a huge fan of the change, as it deprives new nurses of getting the chance to learn together and develop a trusting relationship where they can feel more comfortable and get their questions answered. “You miss that one to one human interaction,” she adds.

The new way of orientation sees nurses completing educational modules on a computer to learn much of the initial orientation. She also noted that the timeline for orientation has been decreased drastically. She explains that in the past, the orientation for a typical new Med/Surg nurse would last somewhere between 8-10 weeks, based on their experience. Now, however, that timeline has shrunk to somewhere between 4-6 weeks. 

Gibson points out the shortened timeline presents a challenge, especially when you consider the fact that many graduating nurses have always had their in-person clinical hours slashed as a result of the pandemic too. Instead of in-person clinicals, many nursing schools switched to virtual simulation clinicals to meet the requirement for graduation. So these brand-new nurses have had fewer clinical hours on-site and are now trying to acclimate to being an independent RN in shorter amounts of time than ever before. Sounds like a recipe for success, right?  


Soft Skills > Hard Skills

If you’re a new grad reading this and suddenly panicking about your lack of clinical experience, Gibson assures us that there’s no need to worry. The hospitals and hiring teams are well aware that new grads may not have a lot of experience in what she calls the “hard skills” of hands-on clinical care. “We understand that you may not have a lot of experience and that’s okay,” she explains. “We’re going to show you what you need to know to at least start. We’re going to show you what you need to know to be safe and provide component care,” she adds. 

While it may seem difficult to take on a nursing job feeling less-than-confident in your clinical skills, Gibson reminds new nurses that they will learn on-the-job and from the hiring end, the nursing staff is looking for nurses who have the “soft skills” that they need to onboard right now. Those soft skills include things like: 

  • Do you know how to be a team player? 
  • Do you know how to be respectful and cordial?
  • What is your personality like? Can you fit in with the team? (“We need you to fit in...and fit in fast!” she notes.)


Safety First

With all of the new challenges faced by new nurses–and also preceptors, who also aren’t equipped with the same level of preceptor training that they were in the past and are understandably more busy than every–Gibson stressed to Nurse Alice the importance of new nurses advocating for themselves, especially in the beginning of their careers. This includes speaking up if you need more experience on a skill, understanding that your preceptor may also be new to the preceptor role and have a different learning style than you, and focusing first and foremost on feeling safe when caring for patients. 

Although gaining experience as a new nurse, being open to constantly learning and going out of your comfort zone may be part of the gig, it’s equally important that you speak up whenever you feel that you are being asked to do something that you don’t feel safe doing. “If you don’t know something, please say you don’t know,” she stresses. “One of the things I say is, ‘I’m not safe,’” she adds. “That’s code word for: ‘Stop, I don’t feel safe doing this.’” 

She also encourages getting to know both your own and your preceptor’s learning styles, because they may be polar opposites. This could definitely affect how you learn and if you don’t recognize a difference in styles, it could lead to some frustration on both ends. For instance, she explains that learning styles for nurses include being someone who needs to try it for themselves, to being more of a read-and-research nurse, to a total visual learner––try to communicate your own style and talk through your preceptor’s so you can best navigate working together. “Speak up and advocate for yourself,” she urges. 

You can follow Gibson’s New Nurse Academy on Instagram at @newnurseacademy for more tips and resources for new nurses. And if there’s one takeaway that Gibson hopes readers will remember, it’s this message to all you new nurses applying for jobs or considering entering the workforce: “We need you.” 

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