How to Survive Your First Year as a Nurse

Graduating from nursing school is a major achievement, but nothing compares to beginning your first nursing job. Suddenly, everything has come together; you can apply all that you learned to treat patients. It’s exciting, certainly, but your first year as a nurse will also be frustrating, tiring, emotional, exhilarating, devastating, stressful … and ultimately, rewarding.

Here are some tips to help you survive your first year as a nurse.  

You don’t have to know everything.

Even if you graduated top of your class and did well in your clinicals, you’re not going to know everything once you start working—nor will you be expected to. There’s no way that any amount of education can prepare you 100 percent for real-world situations. Why? Every patient is different. Not everyone reacts the same way to the same treatment. Nurses with years of experience still learn something new every day, and so will you.

No question is stupid.

Being on the job is different from practicing during clinicals. You’re under more pressure, and it can be stressful. Consider all that you covered during your nurse’s training. That was a lot of information, and you’re bound to forget some of it. When you’re starting your career, it’s normal to want reassurance that you’re doing things correctly. If you’re unsure about anything, ask a question—even if you think it is insignificant. If you guess, you might harm a patient.

Prioritize your duties to manage your time well.

Nurses are overworked. They’re expected to take on many duties—and then add some more to the list. The best way to manage your many responsibilities is to take a moment and assess what you need to do. Prioritize the most important tasks and finish them first. Once you get into the rhythm of your job, you’ll discover how long it takes to do certain things and will develop a system that can help you manage your time effectively.

Rarely will you have a “textbook” case.

You may your training showed you most scenarios that you’ll encounter. You probably did learn about textbook cases of various illnesses and how to treat them. What about COVID-19? Nothing could have prepared you for that, and everyone is still learning what to do to care for patients.

Ask for help when you need it.

You don’t have to be “Super RN” who can do it all yourself. Sometimes, you need help. There may be a task you’re not comfortable doing and want supervision. Maybe there is a patient who is frightened and doesn’t want you to administer treatment. You might need help calming him or her down so you can do the procedure. Remember that you are part of a nursing team, and it’s o.k. to ask a fellow nurse, aide or medical assistant to help you. You’ll do the same for them when they ask.

Every opportunity is a learning opportunity.

Every day on the job you’ll discover something you didn’t know. Make it an opportunity to learn something new. You may have a patient who is prescribed a medication you’re unfamiliar with or who has a condition you haven’t heard of. Do your research to learn more. Consider getting additional certifications, such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support. If you’re not sure what a physical therapist or a respiratory therapist does, find out. Learn about the roles of the people who work with you. Read about medical terms and diagnoses that are unclear to you. Look through medical and nursing journals in your spare time. Read blogs. Join nursing support groups. Make learning a part of your daily routine.

Having a bad day or shift doesn’t make you a bad nurse.

You may have made a mistake. You might not have been able to save a patient. You feel as though you’ve failed and should never have gone into nursing. Stop. Everyone has bad days and makes mistakes. There will also be good days when you know you have made a patient’s life better. Just remember to take the bad with the good.

Listen to what your patient says.

If a patient says they don’t feel right, don’t disregard it just because the numbers show otherwise. Something might be changing. Take everything seriously and listen to what the patient tells you.

Don’t make waves.

The workday is long enough but being the pariah of your team can make it so much longer. Even if you graduated at the top of your class, don’t act like a know it all. That’s a great way to become unpopular. Another is to constantly complain about the system, the workload, your team members, certain duties, etc. You don’t want to make waves because you can isolate yourself very quickly.

Bond with your team.

Get to know your coworkers, both nurses and other healthcare workers. It makes the workplace happier when you learn more about them as individuals. You can also benefit from their experiences because you’ll discover what works best in certain situations. If you are able, participate in activities or functions outside work with your team members.

Take care of yourself.

Your shifts will be exhausting. Remember that you’re no good to your patients if you’re not at your best. Eat well, exercise, rest, relax, and do something for yourself. That could mean scheduling a night out with your partner or a friend, giving yourself a spa night, treating yourself to a movie night, or engaging in a hobby you like. Taking care of yourself also means staying home if you’re sick.

A career in nursing can be rewarding, but the first year can be challenging. Just like any job, it takes time to learn the ropes and become comfortable with your responsibilities. Remember that you’re still learning—always learning—and you can be the nurse you want to be.

Have you thought about becoming a nurse? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for nurses are expected to increase 12 percent—much higher than average—between 2018-2028. In fact, according to the BLSEmployment Projections 2016-2026 report, the registered nursing profession is among the top occupations experiencing job growth through 2026.

Brookline College offers Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in Nursing at campuses in Phoenix, Albuquerque, and online. In as few as two and a half years, you can complete the requirements for a B.S., provided you attend classes year-round. This gets you ready for an entry-level nursing job much sooner than others in a typical four-year program. In addition to traditional classroom instruction, you’ll also hone your skills with hands-on learning opportunities in Brookline’s simulated lab. Experienced instructors help you learn from your mistakes and give you the confidence you need to apply your training in the real world.

Nursing classes start soon. Contact Brookline College today to enroll.