10 Tips For New Nurses To Make You Feel Better At Work
Brittany Hamstra BSN, RN
Embracing these nursing tips can help you become a better nurse and avoid burnout as you begin your nursing career.
1. Don’t be a wallflower
Part of the discomfort when starting your first nursing job comes from the multitude of new faces around you – nurses, doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, nutritionists, the unit secretary, housekeeping staff, and management!
You might be wondering how you’ll ever break the ice and fit in with so many new coworkers. It’s pretty simple: Just introduce yourself. Try not to convince yourself an introduction isn’t necessary. Just because someone looks busy doesn’t mean they won’t remember you. Honestly, people are probably wondering who you are, too!
The sooner you introduce yourself, the easier it becomes to feel more comfortable with your new unit. Most people will gladly take a few minutes to receive your introduction, and they may even offer to help you as you transition into your nursing practice (insert *sigh of relief*).
2. Have a “go-to” crew
As you start to make acquaintances on the unit, you will inevitably meet people you “click” with right away. Try to find at least one seasoned nurse, one doctor, and another team member (maybe a charge nurse) who are most eager to guide you. Think of them as mentors and utilize them!
You’ll not only grow a strong personal and professional bond with them but, you’ll also become a much stronger nurse as you proactively seek guidance throughout the first year of your nursing career.
3. ASK QUESTIONS
Yes, it is in bold letters. Yes, it is in all CAPS. Yes, you have heard it a thousand times before.
The most dangerous thing you can do for your professional license and your patients is to not ask questions. As healthcare continues to change and you continue to grow as a healthcare professional, chances are that ‘asking questions’ will never end.
No matter how ‘stupid’ you think it might sound, there’s truly no such thing as a question you shouldn’t ask.
For example, an experienced nurse may pass you in the hall and ask something like, “will you help suction my patient in 14?” While she thinks her question is direct and to the point, you, on the other hand, are freaking out with unanswered questions:
- “Does she mean open suction or closed suction?”
- “Wait, does she mean oral suction or do they have a drain to suction?”
- “Should I go back and ask her again what she means or how to do that? No…because it would make me look dumb and that nurse is too busy to teach me anyway.”
Believe me, we have all gone down this thought train. As a registered nurse, especially a new one, just take the extra minute to seek help from someone you trust. It will actually make them feel more confident in your abilities because you will seem like a thorough nurse who doesn’t pretend to ‘know it all.’
Two important tips for new nurses:
- Always know where to find your hospital policies and procedures.
- Know how to ask your colleagues for the information you need - be direct and resourceful.
4. You can cheat now
You don’t have to memorize everything anymore. You don’t need to remember which medications you can have milk with, or orange juice, or which you need to wait two hours after eating, or whatever crazy details we had to memorize in nursing school.
You passed the NCLEX already! Don’t rely on memory anymore.
You will inevitably build an extensive knowledge base over the years that you will pull from rather than relying on text resources. But, in the beginning – cheat! Cheat to learn.
- Look up all your medications before you administer them.
- Refresh yourself on procedural skills before you perform them.
- If you see a weird rhythm on the monitor, ask for a second set of eyes on it and skim your pocket EKG book.
- If you can’t remember exact lab value ranges or appropriate vital signs for age groups, just look it up.
- If you can’t remember whether decaf coffee is a diuretic, look it up.
- If you don’t know how to set the unit’s monitors for a pediatric patient, chances are a more seasoned nurse nearby does.
Nurses are great at cheating until it’s ingrained in our memory, and this is totally acceptable. Carry pocket-sized reference guides, download quick-reference apps, and stick index cards with normal ranges in the back of your ID badge holder.
This kind of “cheating” can simplify your new nursing career, and it has another advantage: When you don’t spend so much mental energy remembering facts, you’ll have more time to learn your unit, ask questions, and become a better nurse.
5. You are your most important patient
Take care of yourself. It’s common for new nurses to frequently feel sick during their first year working but, it doesn’t have to be that way. Common self-care pitfalls of new nurses include,
- not getting enough sleep
- not eating well
- not protecting yourself against germs.
If you are struggling to catch sleep as a new nurse on the night shift, make it a priority to figure out solutions. Some seasoned nurses swear by black-out curtains, some take melatonin before bed, some cut blue-light screen time, or at least stop scrolling on social media, a couple of hours before sleep.
- Ask your family members, roommates, and friends to help support your schedule by not interrupting your sleep time unless it’s an emergency. Find a relaxing podcast if you can’t slow your mind.
- Frequent exposure to new germs will definitely make you sick (and eat up your sick days.) COVID-19 precautions have helped cut down on germ exposure in general, but here are a few tips to protect yourself (as much as possible) from hospital germs:
- Follow isolation precautions and hand hygiene
- If you admit a patient who is coughing (or just doesn’t look good) before isolation precautions are ordered, just throw on a mask and gloves to be safe
- Clean your high-touch areas and objects with a chlorhexidine wipe at work – your stethoscope, your ID badge, your pen, the keyboard you use for charting. I even wipe down the surface of the pumps and doorknob in my patient’s room.
- If your hospital has showers for nurses, consider getting showered before heading home.
6. Talk the talk
Nurse communication is an art that takes years to master. They can’t teach it in school - it’s a skill you have to learn in your nursing practice. You will eventually learn to give reports to colleagues but, until you find a style and flow that works for you, “SBAR” is a good place to start. (SBAR stands for Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendations.)
A helpful tip for educating patients and their family members is to always explain acronyms and abbreviations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard doctors and nurses say things to their patients like, “We are just going to do a CBC, BMP, and type and screen for now” while the patients smile and nod with confused looks on their faces.
It’s important to find more effective ways to communicate with patients. Try saying something like, “We are going to draw some blood out of that IV line you have so the team can evaluate your levels. We’ll be looking at your complete blood count, like red and white blood cells, and your chemistry profile, like your electrolyte levels. And a type and screen will confirm your blood type in case you need a blood transfusion in the future.”
This doesn’t mean you should “talk down” to your patients and their family members. Just try to think about the conversation from their point of view. Unlike you, the patient may be hearing the words ‘catheter’ or ‘chest tube’ for the first time.
You can say more, you can say less – but do explain it in a language your patients will understand.
7. Work on your poker face
Without a doubt, nurses have the best poker faces in the business. You will see it all as a new nurse – organs prolapsing from not-so-correct anatomical locations, raunchy tattoos on geriatric patients, explosive diarrhea, combative little women, ex-convicts accompanied by law enforcement officers, and the list goes on.
You will have patients say very strange things, ask you questions that will stump your nursing knowledge, or sometimes code and die in front of you. And through it all, you learn to keep a poker face.
8. Up close and personal
Learning not to take things personally is essential as a new nurse. Angry doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and patients will likely take their frustrations out on you sometimes -- maybe even on your first day. Over time, you learn to be the metaphorical punching bag, the shoulder to cry on, the trusted one to lean on, and the lending-ear.
If someone makes a shift difficult for you, always remember you are a strong nurse - don’t allow another person to make their problems your problems. Chances are, you were an unfortunate coincidence in their line of fire. So just take a couple of deep breaths and get back to work.
Nurse and doctor bullying is thankfully being eradicated, but if you deal with an unprofessional coworker, please seek support and tell someone higher up (like a charge nurse, management, or HR). It’s never okay to be personally attacked at work.
9. Time flies by when you’re…a nurse
You would be surprised how quickly a 12-hour shift can pass. Time management is another essential skill for new nurses to perfect.
- You will learn to prioritize patient care based on acuity and involvement of care
- You’ll learn to orchestrate your day around everyone else who steals that time – doctors rounding, therapists doing sessions, meal times, and patients’ visitors
- You will become an expert at organization, adaptability, delegation, and time management skills.
To help yourself adjust to the rhythm of the unit, loosely organize your shift from the start, critically-think about your patient’s well-being and who/what needs to be on your radar and why – remember to ask for help when you need it.
10. Enjoy it
Congrats on transitioning from nursing student to working nurse – enjoy it! If you work 12s, you’ll love the idea of four days off a week.
- Enjoy those steady paychecks.
- Enjoy those paid vacation days.
- Enjoy being done with tests and studying and homework.
- Enjoy developing your own nursing practice without a preceptor supervising.
- Enjoy making friends at work, going to holiday parties, and planning potlucks.
- Enjoy buying too many pairs of cute scrubs.
You worked so hard for this moment, so enjoy it. ☺
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