There I was, walking into my first day of orientation as a new grad nurse. My crisp, clean, RN badge proudly clipped to my unstained uniform, and my ear-to-ear grin, which clearly you could not see under my surgical mask due to starting this career during a pandemic (but that’s a completely different topic for another time), finally landed me at the beginning of this career, one which I had worked so hard towards.
Admiration and Reality
The unit doors opened, and before my eyes was a team of doctors and nurses rushing a man on a gurney through the hall at a rapid pace. I heard the words yelled, "pulse check....no pulse, start compressions now!" Suddenly, a nurse leapt on top of the gurney, straddled the man, and began chest compressions. My eyes opened wide, and I stopped in my tracks. My immediate thought was wow; nurses are truly amazing! My very next thought was, what in the world have I gotten myself into? You see, nursing school teaches you how the body functions, what internal systems can fail, what medications to give, and how, on a very surface level, critical thinking comes into play. What isn't taught is how to confidently walk into your first nursing job and not be overwhelmed beyond measure, with the thought that "am I even capable enough to do this?" Many times an unstable patient would be admitted to my unit, and when I would walk into their room, I'd sort of look around and think, okay, who's going to take care of this patient and nurse them back to health, only to quickly realize, it was me. If that's not a heavy responsibility, I don't know what is.
Those first couple of months were terrifying, but as more and more time went by, I realized that not only was I completely capable of doing this job, but I was actually teaching other people things that I had learned myself during orientation and nursing school.
My first piece of advice would be remember there is a team around you, so never stop asking questions to whoever will listen. You may feel like you're a nuisance at first, but the more questions you ask, the more knowledge you gain. Your license depends on your ability to critically think and to minimize, or not make any mistakes, so before you risk what you've worked so hard for, ASK! I would ask doctors why they did a procedure a certain way, or why they were using this medication over another medication. Trust me when I say that the knowledge you gain from asking real-time questions is priceless.
Second, admit when you're overwhelmed with a patient assignment, and find someone you can trust on your unit to assist you. Whether it's the charge nurse, your preceptor, another seasoned nurse, or even your manager, find the person that will have your back when you feel like you're drowning and cannot breathe. Believe me, those first couple of months can be very hard to keep up, so don't feel like a failure if you ask for help. Remember, keeping a patient safe is far more important than having to swallow your pride and admitting you need support.
You’re Here Because You’re Supposed to Be
Lastly, you CAN do this. Be confident in the fact that you made it through nursing school and passed the NCLEX- Congratulations. Two feats that you should never take lightly. YOU deserve to be here. YOU'VE earned it. Remind yourself of this each shift. Heck, remind yourself of this each hour or even each minute if you must.
If I’ve learned one thing during my time as a new grad nurse, it’s that nursing is one of the most challenging yet rewarding careers. Not all days will be easy, and in turn, not all days will be hard. Take each day as it comes, focus on the small wins, and always remember to just breathe.
Leah Matthews is a Registered Nurse working on a Trauma unit at a hospital system in Dayton, OH. In 2019, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Xavier University with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. For Leah, Nursing is her passion and second career, as she has over seventeen years of experience as a marketing and advertising professional within various roles. Along with her love for writing, Leah’s future goals include obtaining her Masters in Nursing with a focus on Women’s Health.