Most seasoned nurses would agree with me that your first few years (especially the first year) is going to be your hardest time as a nurse.
It’s stressful! There’s a lot going on and sometimes you might feel like you’re on an island with no guidance.
To help you I’m going to give you some of the top tips that I wish I knew my first year as a new nurse.
*Disclosure: This article on tips for new nurses may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. For more info, please see my disclaimer.
Tips for New Grad Nurses
After graduating nursing school and passing the NCLEX you will initially feel like you’ve got a handle on things…until you actually start your new nursing job.
At that point is when you realize your learning is really just beginning.
Excelling at Your New Nursing Job
1. Make Sure You Have the Right Gear
Before you start your new nursing job you need to make sure you have the right gear. I know what you’re thinking why would you go and buy new gear if you still have the ones from nursing school.
This is good thinking assuming you had the solid gear to begin with which many nursing students do not have.
I was in nursing school before and because of that, I know many nursing students (myself included) would buy the cheapest gear we could because that’s all we could afford.
You know what I mean.
The crappy stethoscope that feels like it’s about to poke your brain out even though you can’t really hear anything from it. Or those cheap scrubs you have on that feels like you’re in a restraint jacket when you’re trying to work.
I’m not saying go out and run up credit cards and buy stuff you can’t afford.
What I am saying is to make a plan of how you’re going to replace some of your training equipment with more professional level equipment that’s both comfortable, looks good, and gets the job done.
I would probably start with getting a good stethoscope, a good pair of shoes for those long 12 hour shifts, and of course a good pair of scrubs that are not embroidered with your school’s logo on the sleeve.
I went through and wrote a new nurse essentials guide you can reference for more information.
2. Seek Out New Grad Nurse Courses
As far as I know online courses like this were not available when I graduated nursing school. I wish they were because they would have made a huge difference.
Before I get ahead of myself let me tell you what they are. New grad online courses are courses designed to help new grads transition into being independent nurses.
You might say, why would I need a new nurse prep course, when I have all my notes and study material for nursing school? Or if I have my study material from studying for the NCLEX.
While you can use those (and I’m not saying they wouldn’t be helpful) I think once you start using things outside of their intended scope they tend to be more difficult to use.
For those reasons I generally recommend buying a course geared specifically towards helping new nurses get acclimated to working independently. There are several of them out there like the New Grad Academy.
Some topics covered by this new grad nursing academy include:
- IV insertion
- EKG reading
- Managing stress
- How to document
- How to prioritize well
The list goes on.
It’s actually an extensive list and for everything you get with it, I’m actually surprised it’s as affordable as it is. Don’t take my word for it check it out for yourself.
If you’re in a very good nurse residency program you may not really need a new nurse course like this one, but honestly, I question how good a lot of those nurse residency programs are.
3. Keep Learning and Improving
Just because nursing school is over, doesn’t mean you can put your brain on cruise control, or worse shut it off. As a new grad nurse, you hardly know enough to do your job safely.
Not trying to be mean but that’s really the truth.
I already mentioned above how important a new grad nursing academy could be for helping you get acclimated to being a “real nurse.”
But I want to take it a little step further.
Healthcare is forever changing. Even when you think you’re comfortable with the way things are you’ll eventually have changes in the form of new technology or new evidence-based practice (sound familiar).
Because of that, you need to be a life-long learner and always be willing to change up your practice based on the latest recommendations from research.
Please don’t be that nurse that’s doing “xyz” just because “that’s how you’ve always have done it”…even when research is showing it’s unsafe for you, for the patients, or both.
4. Get to Know Your Co-Workers
Here’s the honest truth your coworkers are probably going to fall into one of 3 categories.
- You love them. 😊
- You tolerate them. 😐
- You despise them. 😠
Unless you’re an overly optimistic person or you’re unit or floor happens to be one of the rare departments this is probably going to be how most of the people you work with will fall into.
Yep you’ll probably tolerate most of them. So if you’re only going to tolerate most of them why would I suggest you get to know them.
It’s because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your co-workers. Many years into my career as a nurse and without a doubt I spend more time with my coworkers than I do my own family.
Furthermore, there will be situations where you’re going to have to rely on your coworkers for help. I don’t care if you’re not a team player the fact of the matter is that in nursing you’re going to have a very hard time flying solo.
Couple that together with you being a new grad and…well I think you see what I mean. Long story short, get your graph above to look more like this one…
I know you’re going to have really bad coworkers. Unfortunately, nurses eating their young does happen, and nurse bullying is a real thing.
Check out this article I wrote to help you handle a nurse that’s being difficult.
5. Remember There is No “I” in Team
To piggyback off the tip above you need to remember the saying there is no “I” in team… it’s true and as a new graduate teamwork is going to be even more important.
You better remember it takes a village…seriously! Ask any veteran nurse (me included). You’re going to have a lot of shifts where it will literally take “a village” to get through the shift.
When you do receive that help, don’t forget to say Thank You!
6. Ask Questions
If you don’t know…do NOT guess, ask! Seriously! There’s no such thing as a stupid question. There is such a thing as you did something stupid that could have been avoided if you had just asked.
Most people aren’t going to be mad at you or anything like that by asking a question. If nothing else you’ll have more people mad at you if something goes terribly wrong because you didn’t ask.
Plus everybody you work with will already know you’re a new nurse. If they don’t they’ll know soon enough. It’s expected that new nurses will have a lot of questions.
7. Listen to Advice From the Right People
Asking questions is not a problem. As stated above I encourage new nurses to ask questions. What is a problem is when you don’t listen to the advice given.
That’s not to say you should do everything you’re advised to do. Nor am I saying that every piece of advice you get will be good. On the contrary, I think a lot of the advice you’re going to get will be straight garbage.
What you need to do is learn who the right people are at your place to take advice from and who you should avoid like the plague.
Listening to and evaluating the advice you get can help shape what you do and give you a different perspective you might have missed.
8. Learn to Manage Your Time and Prioritize
Normally when new grad nurses or student nurses think of prioritizing tasks and time management they think about med-surg nursing.
The thing is every field a nurse works whether that’s med-surg, ER, or OR nursing requires some type of prioritizing and time management skills. It’s not just med-surge.
Each shift you will have objectives you have to accomplish before the shift is over. The question will not be which ones can I choose not to do. The question will instead be which task needs to be done first.
9. Learn to Stop and Breath
You’re going to be stressed. You will reach a point when you’ll be thinking “why did I go to nursing school.”
You might even start questioning everything you have ever done up to that point.
First of all, let me say “it’s ok.” You are not alone and it’s a common feeling among new nurses.
During your first moments as a new nurse, you will need to learn to breathe…breathe…and after you do that breath some more!
Everything is going to be ok. You’re going to be stressed. The goal is to learn how to manage that stress well.
Whether that’s pursuing a vacation or just venting about it, find ways to mitigate the damages of stress. This is going to help you avoid early nurse burnout.
10. Master the Art of Charting
Remember that saying in nursing school “if you didn’t chart it, it didn’t happen.”
Well, let me tell you that statement is very true.
Lawsuits happen, and interestingly enough those lawsuits tend to happen months or years after the fact. Memories are going to be fuzzy, and even if it wasn’t it doesn’t really matter.
What everyone is going to use to judge your actions is your documentation.
Go read this article I wrote on general nurse charting tips. While the article will help you learn good documentation principles, I think it’s important for you to note that your charting will look different depending on the nursing specialty you’re in. The facility you work at could also shape how your charting will look.
Consult with your preceptor or another trusted seasoned nurse in your unit to make sure your documentation is up to par.
Charting is a hard area to master. Even seasoned nurses will occasionally ask another nurse to read their narrative note or ask for feedback on their charting when certain events happen.
11. Focus on Patient Safety
When you chose to become a nurse, you chose to follow “you shall do no harm.” That slogan is fairly self-explanatory.
Avoid doing things that jeopardize your patient’s health or well-being. Always do what’s best for the patient!
While this might seem like a duh moment but over the years and countless stories told I have learned this is a reminder nurses frequently need.
12. Call the Doctor Prepared and with Confidence
I wish I could tell you every doctor you work with is going to be kind to you. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be the case.
You’re going to deal with a lot of unkind doctors (and providers) and unfortunately, that tends to make many new nurses get nervous about calling them for orders.
My simple advice to you is, do NOT be afraid to call the doctor. Just like you, they have a job to do, which is to take calls and give orders.
On the same note, when you call be prepared. Have the patient’s chart already open and any information you might need open and ready to go.
Talk to your preceptor or one of the seasoned nurses in your department about the providers and what their personalities are like. There are some doctors who you call and explain what’s going on and they give you orders.
You’ll have some providers who want you to know what you want before you call them. This is complicated more if you’re calling the doctor in the middle of the night.
13. DON’T whine
Let me tell you, you’re going to have moments where you’re going to have these thoughts…
- We’re too short-staffed.
- That family member is very difficult.
- That patient is difficult
- Why does management suck so much!
Some of those thoughts might come on your good days. Long story short, nobody likes a whiner.
I’m not saying you can’t complain about your bad day, or bad situation. On the contrary there’s something a little therapeutic about complaining and it might bring you a little closer to your peers.
I know. I know. It’s kind of weird. Maybe it has something to do with that saying “misery loves company?”
The main thing to remember is to not be too much of a complainer. Always remember you’re whining to the same people who have to deal with the exact same thing.
14. Get Out of the NCLEX Mindset
In school exams and the NCLEX world, you get the perfect scenario. You didn’t have a dual diagnosis on a patient. You would get scenario of a patient who has heart failure with the perfect symptoms.
The real world is a lot messier and so is connecting patient symptoms to the correct diagnosis.
Why is this the case? It’s two parts. One is that patients don’t always present with textbook symptoms, and two your patients are going to have multiple co-morbidities.
While we’re on this particular topic, I would be remis if I didn’t add this is not a tv show.
In hospital shows, everyone is sleeping around and there are affairs that are going on.
While to a certain extent some of that may happen at the facility you work at, it’s unlikely to be as drama-filled…or as entertaining as the TV shows make it.
Believe me, there is nothing entertaining about baby daddy, or baby mama drama showing up at the place you work.
While I’m at it KEEP GOOD BOUNDARIES!
15. Know Who Your Actual Leaders Are
The formal leaders are going to be obvious they are the ones that are going to have the title. For example nurse manager, team manager, house supervisor etc.
While you should know who your formal leaders are that’s not actually the focus of this section. The focus is you should know who the informal leaders are.
The reason for that is because the formal leaders are not always the influential decision makers.
You need to identify for yourself the influential people on your unit/department beyond the formal leaders.
- Who are the actual decision-makers on your unit?
- Who do people go to for answers?
- When people are thinking of making a change who do they tend to get inputs from?
- Who are your formal leaders avoiding a conflict with?
Learn this and keep that in mind because it’ll probably change your interactions at your new job.
16. Don’t Make Your Supervisor Look Bad
This to me seems like an obvious one, but I’ve noticed it’s something a lot of people don’t follow.
“Butt” chewing is a top-down hierarchy. (I’m sure you can imagine another way this could be said. 😉)
It starts from the top and works its way down. If your boss gets chewed out, especially if it’s because of you…Let’s just say you’ll know!
The other thing to keep in mind is that you won’t be making any friends and it will be harder for you to get your manager to help you out or put in a good word for you if you’re going for a promotion or applying for another job, or transferring.
Even if you don’t care about all of that then keep this in mind. The worse your manager looks the increased likelihood that upper management will be monitoring your department.
Professional Aspects of Being a New Graduate Nurse
17. Take Care of Your Personal Nurse Brand
In a previous article, I discussed what a personal nurse brand is, and why it’s so important. Check out that article for a deeper dive, but in a nutshell, it’s protecting your reputation.
Your reputation can easily follow you throughout your nursing career especially if you continue to live in the same area. The nursing community is not as big as you think it is, and within specialties, it gets even smaller.
Nurses move in and out of management often. Nurses also change jobs frequently. With that said you never know when one of the interviewers for that job you really want is the hiring manager from a past job.
You may think people won’t remember you but I’m reminded of that quote from Maya Angelo that reads “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Let that sink in for a bit.
18. Find a Mentor and Network
Some facilities already have a mentoring program in place for new RNs and LPNs.
If they don’t, try to find a more seasoned RN or LPN who is willing to take a new grad nurse under their wings and show them the ropes.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone directly if they will mentor you, most will view this as a compliment!
As for networking it’s similar to getting to know your coworkers but this is for more professional matters.
19. Make Sure You’re Networking
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “it’s not what you know but who you know.” I think that saying is often overstated, but throughout my career I’ve found that to be the case.
People you know (and have a good reputation with) can open doors and opportunities you otherwise might not have had.
Throughout my working career (starting at 15 years of age) I’ve had people give me leads on jobs put in good words for me to a hiring manager just because they knew me and my work ethics.
I’ve heard stories of people who got interviews and jobs based on who they know.
Whether it’s right or wrong is a separate discussion the fact of the matter is that it does happen so you need to put yourself in that position for people to know who you are and be able to spread wonderful things about you when needed.
20. Stay Humble and Show Gratitude
Whether you went to a prestigious nursing school, graduated nursing school with a 4.0, or passed the NCLEX at the minimum number of questions stay humble. Humility is a wonderful thing and people tend to gravitate towards humble people.
I’m not saying don’t be confident. There’s a fine line between confidence and humility just make sure you don’t cross the line.
Along the way, make sure you’re showing gratitude to those who are helping you out. Showing gratitude encourages people to want to help you out again.
21. Brush Off Bad Shifts
You might have a bad shift…actually I take that back you will have bad shifts and as a newly graduated nurse, you will have plenty of them.
Ask a fellow nurse, especially one that has had a long tenure, and see if they won’t tell you they’ve had so many bad shifts they’ve lost count years ago.
The key is to not be defined by those bad shifts. A bad shift does not necessarily equal a bad nurse. Nor does it necessarily mean you provided bad care. Some days will just be better than others.
BAD SHIFT ≠ BAD NURSENurse Money Talk
22. Don’t Stay at Your Job if it Sucks
I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this advice, but just because it’s your first nursing job doesn’t mean you have to stick with it.
I’m not saying leave just because things are stressful or hard, but if it’s turning out to not be what you want or if you find out the unit’s culture doesn’t fit you, count your losses.
For the record there’s a right and wrong way to to quit your nursing job. Check out some of these articles.
23. Treat Your Techs and Ancillary Staff Well
As a new grad nurse make it a priority to display kindness.
That goes for your techs. A good tech is worth their weight in gold. A good tech can make your life so much easier. Take care of those techs.
That also goes for housekeeping, laundry, and your cook staff (and anybody else I might have missed). Everybody has a job to do. Nobody’s job is more important than the other, just different.
We all play different, yet vital parts in carrying out our ultimate goal, which is to provide exceptional patient care.
24. DON’T lie
You’re going to make mistakes. That’s to be expected. The worst possible thing you can do is lie about it.
The likelihood you’re going to get away with the lie is slim to none. If it’s a big mistake you potentially put the patient’s life in danger.
If it’s a small mistake you just look dumb. The end result is a loss of credibility. In healthcare a loss of credibility is not a good thing.
Nurses are voted regularly as one of the most trusted professions in the country. Lying takes away from that confidence. If your boss finds out you lied about a mistake, the likelihood you’ll get fired or written up is high even if you weren’t going to in the first place.
You’re More Than a Nurse
Tips on your personal life as a nurse.
25. Know What Your Limits Are
As you gain more nursing experience and start getting comfortable with your practice you’re going to be tempted to join one committee after the other. To pick up one shift after the other.
I get it.
You probably have student loans, commitments, and goals that have been on hold because of nursing school. Please remember you just got your freedom back after being a nursing student for so long. Don’t give it all away so quickly!
Plus it’s a good way to stress your self out. Don’t over commit yourself in both your personal and work life.
Manage your finances well so you don’t feel like you need to work every single day, and no matter how guilty your manager makes you feel know when to say no.
26. Focus on Your Personal Finance
Money causes a lot of stress. If you haven’t already started you need to learn about personal finance. You need to know how to budget all that money you’re going to start making as a nurse.
While you can go here to find a personal finance advisor (and you should as a resource) it doesn’t change the fact that you need to have at least a baseline knowledge of personal finance.
A professional financial advisor is a great resource but it doesn’t change the simple truth that nobody is going to care about your money like you will.
The last thing I’ll mention is you should start thinking about saving for retirement TODAY. If you haven’t already started saving for retirement you should. It’s never too early or too late to start.
Why is this such a big deal? Besides the obvious having money during your golden years, getting your finances in order will help you achieve your goals and tackle any student loan debt you might have.
27. Take Care of Yourself
As already stated above it’s easy to get overcommitted in both your personal and work life if you’re not careful. It’s easy as a nurse to focus on taking care of others that you never get a chance to take care of yourself.
I want to give you permission and encourage you to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. When you’re well and doing good, you’ll have so much more you can give to others.
Here’s some articles that’ll help you on that: (nurse health)
- 15 Practical Weight Loss Tips for Busy Nurses
- 5 Actionable Stress Management Techniques
- How Nurses Find Time to Work Out
- 10 Healthy Snack Options for Busy Nurses
28. Remember healthcare is a business
Some of us are very altruistic. We have the best intentions in the world. We think we’re going to help everyone and everything.
Then we graduate nursing school. Start working and realize the cold truth.
Healthcare is a business. There are a lot of for-profit hospital systems that are in the business of making money. There are a lot of “not-for-profit” hospitals who…you guessed it are also in the business of making money.
It doesn’t mean good things aren’t happening. It doesn’t mean people aren’t getting helped. Nor does it mean you shouldn’t show up to work each day with the mindset of serving patients and their family members to the best of your abilities.
It’s just something you should keep in mind.
Being a new nurse is both a hard and exciting time. Hopefully, some of these tips will be able to help you navigate your new journey.
Please share this article so we can get the word out and educate others.