My Advice for Graduate Nurses

Graduate nurses this one is for you as you enter the nursing workforce over the coming months.

I still remember what it was like starting my very first job; how overwhelmed and underprepared I felt to be a qualified nurse and no longer a student ~ you are not alone if you are feeling that way too! That is why for you, I have collated my top nursing tips and pieces of advice for you to take with you moving forward into your nursing career.  

Never Stop Learning

You may have just graduated and earned your certificate, but as Florence Nightingale said, “Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses…we must be learning all our lives.” You won’t know everything and that is okay; be confident with what you do know and take every opportunity to continue to learn and grow professionally. I can assure you that you will probably learn more in your graduate year than you ever did in university! Be proactive about your learning and be the kind of nurse to put your hand up to watch, learn, and practise new skills. Be the kind of nurse that when in doubt you ask and research ~ trust me there is no such thing as a silly question. And lastly, be the kind of nurse who is always open to receiving and learning from feedback and suggestions from your not only your fellow nurses, but other healthcare professionals and your patients and their families. 

Nursing is a Team Sport

I think this can be forgotten at times when shifts become particularly busy and manic. However, I believe that some of the best shifts you will have will stem from the team you were working with. Good teamwork requires effective communication, situational awareness, leadership, and mutual support ~ reducing the number of errors made improving patient safety, and reducing stressors and burnout improving job satisfaction. Be the kind of nurse who is a team player, helping, caring, and showing compassion and empathy, not only to your patients but to your colleagues too. Communicate with and support one another by openly asking for help, accepting help, and offering help ~ team work goes both ways! However, in saying that don’t be afraid to say “no” to helping a colleague if you yourself don’t have the time or knowledge, or know it will impede on your own or your patients’ safety.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that nursing is a 24-hour job. Unfortunately there will always be some nurses who become annoyed when you handover work left undone, no matter how hard your shift was. At the end of the day remember this; nursing is one large cycle, 24-hour care, and no one nurse’s work belongs to them, if tasks are yet to be completed at handover, then the next nurse becomes responsible. The patient belongs to all two or three nurses on rotation, and helping a nurse who has been drowning their whole shift should be second nature ~ we are a team after all!

Manage Your Time

Managing your time appropriately starts simply by arriving on time and prepared to start the day. Showing up late puts you behind from the get-go making it difficult to effectively manage your time and hence impeding on your patient care. In addition to being on time, I recommend dedicating 5-10 minutes at the beginning of your shift to make a time planner, after all, preparation prevents poor performance. Trust me, I know how all too easy it is to become flustered during a busy shift, but with adequate preparation and utilisation of a time planner it clears your head allowing you to easily visualise what you still need to achieve, prioritising your cares, and allowing you to adapt to changing situations. There is also a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction with being able to tick of things as you go. I personally find colour coding my time planner helpful in visually seeing where my priorities lie; but find a system that works for you and stick with it!

Stay Positive

In any given job your attitude is important, as it determines your outlook on everything you encounter, further influencing how well you handle stress. Your attitude is infectious to those surrounding you, and as a nurse your colleagues and patients are influenced by this, improving teamwork, performance, and patient satisfaction. It is important to note that being positive is not all about happiness and smiles, it is a mindset based on finding ways to enable us to see the good in things even in the most challenging and chaotic situations.

I know that maintaining a positive attitude can be challenging in nursing due to the many stressors and challenges faced including the long hours, rotating shifts, inadequate staffing, poor teamwork, and pressure to perform in an emotionally and physically demanding field. However, being in a bad mood or in a funk at work can cloud your head and increase the probability of mistakes.

So how do I stay positive if I am in a bad mood or a negative mindset? I take a moment to address this, what is going on and what can I do about it? I listen to some music to put in me into a better mood and I take a moment to remind myself of why I started nursing in the first place, further focussing on the reasons why I love my job. While I know not every day is going to be a good day, I strongly believe that going into work with a positive mindset sets us up for the day, improving our ability to adapt to situations and better manage the stress and challenges we may face.

Continue to Reflect

Reflection, something you have probably already heard about and done a million times as a student, however, don’t let your reflective practice end there. Reflective practice is important part of your career and a valuable lifelong learning tool which promotes personal development and optimal patient care. As we know reflection is more than a discussion of the situation, it involves consideration into how we felt about a situation, understanding what went good or bad, and creating a plan of action to inform our future practice. At the end of every shift, or perhaps the end of each week, take a moment to ask yourself what you did well and what you could do better, and how you can bring about change.

As a part of my reflective process I also like to consider my nursing skills from a patient perspective, asking myself if I was the kind of nurse that I would want to look after me or a loved one. I know it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in the busyness of work, where patients become numbers in beds, and I think this question helps remind us that our patients are human too and are often at their most vulnerable when in hospital. By reflecting on this I can evaluate what I can do better for the patient, despite the stressors and challenges observed at work, to provide better care for my patient ~ always striving to be the nurse I wish I had. So, I ask you, are you the nurse you wish you had?

You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup

One thing I carry with me since hearing it in university is “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” in other words “how can we care for others if we don’t care for ourselves first.” This concept refers to caring for both your physical and mental health. We educate our patients on the importance of nutrition, hydration, and hygiene ~ this applies to you too! Take your breaks at work, I know sometimes it feels all too busy and how can you possibly have the time to go for a break, but I promise you it will still all be there when you get back, and remember how I said nursing is a 24-hour job? That still applies! Taking a break and a moment to eat, hydrate, and clear your head will likely make you more efficient with your patient cares when you return anyway.

Furthermore, don’t take your work home with you. Easier said than done I know, especially when you care so much about your job, but it is so important for your mental health to leave work at work. It may be useful to have something that you do after each shift that helps you separate work from home, for example, showering, exercising, reading a book, watching TV, or perhaps simply talking with your loved ones. What works for you may not work for someone else, whatever it may be though, don’t forget to prioritise sleep. As tempting as it may be to binge that show you’ve been watching on Netflix or read just one more chapter of your book, as we know sleep is vital in recovery!

Know Where You Can Find Support

A common phrase heard throughout nursing is that “nurses eat their young.” While to some degree this is unfortunately true there are a number of people who only want to help you and see you thrive! From your fellow grads, senior nurses and mentors, formal counselling and support services, to your family and friends, you can find support physically, mentally and emotionally. Your work colleagues and nursing based friends will best understand nursing and the trials and tribulations that we face as nurses, while your family and other friends will be there to support you through life in general and be there for you when you go home. Be mindful to not neglect and push either of these groups away as you become busy and tired from work, allocate time to spend with these people and say yes to those work social events. And if you feel that these groups can’t provide the support you need there are official resources you can utilise too, available through your workplace or externally. I understand that sometimes it can be difficult to ask for help, but we all need help occasionally, so never be afraid to seek out that extra help and support if you need it ~ it is okay!

Good-luck Grads! I look forward to seeing your smiling faces and continuing to watch you thrive rather than survive in the nursing world.

If you have any more tips or pieces of advice you wish to pass on to future graduates, or perhaps something you wish you had known, please share them in the comments below!

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