The first year of working as a nurse can be difficult. The NCLEX likely didn’t fully prepare you for crashing patients, difficult family members, and working the night shift. Before you find yourself regularly crying in the supply room an hour into your shift, check out these tips for surviving your first year.
First Year Survivor Tips
1. Be careful with overtime. A lot of units are short-staffed—especially now due to the pandemic. Therefore, hospitals are offering insane amounts of extra pay. While it may sound tempting to work 60+ hours a week and make more than triple your normal income, consider what it might do to your mental and/or physical health before committing.
2. Trust your gut. Have you ever worked with a seasoned nurse who can just tell that something is “off” with the patient, even though everything appears to be fine? That’s intuition. You may think you don’t have this as a new nurse, but you do. If you suspect that something isn’t right with your patient, it probably isn’t.
3. Stay out of workplace drama. We’ve all seen it–the cliques that form and the coworker gossip. Unfortunately, nursing is a profession that can sometimes lend itself to drama and work politics. At the end of the day, remember that you are there to take good care of your patients—not to gossip and complain.
4. Never stop learning. This is true throughout your entire career, but it’s especially important during your first year as a nurse. Nursing school covers the basics, but you will encounter a diagnosis or medication that you haven’t seen before in nearly every shift. Write it down and read about it when you get home so you will be more prepared when it comes up again.
5. Family first. Your job is just that–a job. You are an amazing nurse and an asset to your workplace, but the truth is you are replaceable. You can always get a new job, but you will never get missed time back.
6. It’s never too early to start networking. Even as a new nurse, there are so many ways that you can get involved. Consider joining local and national chapters of professional organizations that relate to the specific area of nursing you are working in. These groups usually offer continuing education and other opportunities for growing in your field. This is also a great way to meet other nurses who work in your area. Nursing can be a small world, so connections are always good to have!
7. Start saving money now. It’s tempting to ignore the information about retirement accounts during your HR onboarding session, but it is important to know. Think about it this way–the earlier you start saving, the earlier you can retire! Also, consider setting aside money each month into an emergency fund. Unexpected things can happen and staying prepared can do a lot for your stress levels in those situations.
8. Make a career plan. Although you just graduated and don’t even want to think about going to school again, picture yourself in ten years. Are you still working the same job? If so, great! But if there are other areas of nursing that you eventually want to pursue, start planning how to get there. Consider whether you will need to go back to school, gain a certain amount of experience, or obtain certifications. You can then create a long-term plan for making that happen.
9. You will never know everything. This can be a hard pill to swallow for nurses, as many of us are a little type A and want to have all the answers. However, remember that even seasoned nurses ask questions often. Questions are how we learn and become better nurses. Also, never be afraid to admit you don’t know something. It’s better to acknowledge it and ask for the right answer than to make the wrong choice and harm a patient!
10. Take care of yourself. Nurses are notorious for taking care of others and thinking of themselves last, but it's true when they say that you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you aren’t physically and mentally healthy, you won’t be able to take good care of your patients. Therefore, figure out what refills your cup and actively make time for doing it.
Being a new nurse can be overwhelming and scary, but it does get easier! If you are struggling, think back to why you chose this profession and remind yourself that all of your hard work will eventually be worth it.
Alissa Hershberger, MSN, RN, CCRN, CNE
Alissa is a full-time nursing instructor and part-time forensic nurse with a background in critical care.