Tips for New Nurses (from a Pretty New Nurse)

The day has finally come – you did it! You finished nursing school, passed the NCLEX and are preparing for your first shift as an RN. Similar to the beginning of nursing school, you are likely nervous and unsure what to expect, yet excited to get started! Being able to introduce yourself as the nurse and removing “student nurse” from your vocabulary takes some time to get used to, but it sure feels good!

Graduation cap that reads "It's a beautiful day to save lives.".

Your first year as a nurse is filled with so much growth as you find your place in the wonderful world of nursing. Here are six tips I have to help you succeed during this time.

Form good habits and do the right thing.

Coming out of nursing school, you have all of the textbook knowledge about the proper way to do things. One example is reviewing the five rights of medication administration before giving a medication. As you start working, don’t develop shortcuts to save on time. Everything you learned has a rationale and it’s important to follow proper procedures. It’s for the benefit and safety of your patients.

Always seek out new learning opportunities.

Chances are, as a student nurse, you didn’t get the opportunity to practice every skill or learn all of the different medical devices. You might have never seen a chest tube except in a textbook. If there is a new diagnosis/skill/device on your unit, put in the effort to learn more about it. It will help sharpen your knowledge and skillset, and it will benefit you (and your patients) down the road.

Pro Tip!

Practice all the IVs and venipunctures you can. More seasoned nurses have the best tips!

Don't be afraid to ask questions.

One beautiful thing about nursing is that it’s constantly changing. With new research continuously informing changes in policy and practice, nothing stays the same for too long. This can be tough as you try to find your way as a new nurse, but never be afraid to ask questions. Remember – it is better to ask a question and do things right than to guess and potentially harm your patient. 

Advocate for your patients

You are never too young or new to stick up for what is right. If something is happening that shouldn’t, don’t be afraid to speak with your charge nurse and go up the chain of command to ensure your patient is safe and advocated for. That is one of your most important duties as a nurse – take it seriously!

Find the organization and time management strategy that works best for you.

Time management is something that was very hard for me as a new nurse. Coordinating taking vitals, doing assessments, administering medications, and getting new admissions, discharges and more can get overwhelming! Through trial and error, you’ll find a technique that works for you. My method was making a to-do list in four hour increments. It helped me visualize what needed to be done so I could better cluster my care.

Self-care and remember your why.

Being a nurse is not all sunshine and rainbows. There will always be days where you have a tough assignment, encounter challenging family members or just feel burnt out. It is critical to take care of yourself – you can’t pour from an empty cup! Room 12 can wait two minutes while you use the restroom before delivering graham crackers (I promise). When you’re not at work, get enough sleep, take a nice long shower, go for a walk – whatever you need to decompress. Find a nurse or mentor on your unit that you can talk to. And reflect on what brought you into nursing in the first place. This will help you get through the tough times at work.

It is critical to take care of yourself – you can’t pour from an empty cup!

Time flies and your first year will be over before you know it! Be a sponge; soak up all the knowledge and experiences that you can. And always remember to be the nurse that you would want as a patient. Who doesn’t love a nurse that is knowledgeable and positive?

Most of all, you are ready for this and you are here for a reason. Don’t beat yourself up for small things; learning is a lifelong process in nursing. And it truly does take a village -- don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Welcome to nursing, and congratulations!

-Rachel Tronolone, BS, RN

Rachel Tronolone is a 2018 graduate of the University at Buffalo’s baccalaureate nursing program. She works on a medical/surgical unit at Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY, and is currently enrolled in the master’s in nursing program at Daemen College.