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New grads: You can do it!

Tuesday June 26, 2012
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You made it! You survived nursing school, passed the NCLEX and landed your first job. All should be well, right? Maybe not. Like most new grads, you probably feel scared, overwhelmed and unprepared for the challenges ahead. Once you’re out of school and hit with the reality of your chosen profession, you can feel overwhelmed, no matter how thorough your education.

The good news is no one expects you to know everything when you graduate. In fact, you’re still very much a student, except the classroom now is your workplace. I used to say I never learned anything until I got out of school. Although that wasn’t completely true, it sometimes felt that way. Consider your first job to be phase 2 of your education.

So what can you do to survive (or better yet thrive) during your first year out there? Here are some tips to get you started:

Be patient with yourself. You’re just starting out. Take time to learn and gain experience. Most seasoned nurses agree it takes a good year to become somewhat comfortable and two years to be able to handle most situations. Go easy on yourself and think about how far you’ve already come. Even the most competent nurse once started out exactly where you are now.

Focus on the positive. While it’s human nature to dwell on the negative, if you focus on the positive, it will become your reality. At the end of each day, reflect on what you learned and on at least one good thing you did for someone. Write it down, look at it and fall asleep with that thought in mind. Keep a positive journal of the times you made a difference or helped someone, including any nice things people say about you. Review it often.

Help others. It’s never too soon to lend a helping hand to a coworker. You might even learn something in the process. Show your willingness to help, and others will do the same for you. Be sure to extend yourself to students and other new grads who follow you. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Align yourself with positive, competent people. Experienced and friendly people are all around. Buddy up with those after whom you’d like to model yourself. A person doesn’t have to have the same title as you for you to learn something from him or her. Many RNs have told me they learned everything they know from an experienced LPN.

Show some initiative. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do a procedure. Seek out opportunities to get the experience you need. If certain procedures aren’t done with any frequency on your unit, talk to your preceptor, unit educator or nurse manager about getting that experience elsewhere. If a certain procedure is going to be done on your unit, see if you can participate (or at least observe). Show your willingness to learn.

Build good relationships. Don’t wait for others to approach you. Introduce yourself to coworkers on all three shifts, physicians and others. Have lunch with someone you don’t know, and get to know him or her better. Learn co-workers’ names, and use them. Say good morning and good night to everyone. Become part of the team.

Keep learning. Use your drug reference guide, the Internet, policy and procedure manuals and other resources. Ask questions, observe experienced people and ask more questions. Remember, you have to do something for the first time only once. Then it starts to be old hat. Do your homework at the end of each day, and look up things that are new to you. Remember this is phase 2 of your education.

Join professional associations. Become a member of your state chapter of the American Nurses Association and specialty association. These affiliations help you stay on the cutting edge, provide support and help, offer educational programs and give you a forum to share ideas. Attend meetings, join a committee and look for mentors. Don’t stay isolated within your department and your facility. Become part of the greater whole, and develop close ties with your colleagues on state and national levels.

Track your progress. We all have a tendency to look at where we are now and where we still want to go. We lose sight of the progress we’ve already made and keep making. Consider starting a log. Record your accomplishments periodically, including any new procedures you do. Start with what you’ve already done, including getting through school and passing the NCLEX, and keep adding to it. Review it on a regular basis to see how far you’ve really come.

Manage your stress. Stress is not something to be tolerated; it should be managed. Everyone has stress in his or her life. As caregivers, we’re particularly susceptible. Make time to socialize, engage in leisure activities and hobbies, exercise, meditate and so on. That way, you’ll have more to give your patients, your family and yourself.

Stay focused, and keep moving forward. With the passage of time, you’ll become more confident and comfortable in your new profession. You can do it! How do I know that? Because I once was right where you are now. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be giving advice to new grads or writing a career advice column for nurses. I’ve come a long way since I got out of school more than 30 years ago, and you will, too. Hang in there. It’s definitely worth it. You can do it. I know you can!


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/asktheexperts/deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.