I will never forget my first shift as a newly qualified nurse. A patient asked for a nurse and as a muscle-memory, student-reflex I said “Oh, I will go and get one for you now”. The patient replied “Are you not a nurse?”. For a moment I still thought I was a student and then it quickly dawned on me that I was, in actual fact, a nurse myself!
Working as a newly qualified nurse can be both an exhilarating, yet a daunting experience. After all the years of hard work and training, the recognition you feel when you can say “I’m a nurse” is really symbolic. It’s truly something to celebrate and champion. However, it’s also quite scary stepping into the shoes of accountability for a caseload of patients every day. I remember asking a senior colleague if it gets easier as you become more qualified. She told me “The day you don’t have any nerves in managing a caseload of patients, is the day you might need to reconsider nursing!”. While I don’t entirely agree with this statement (I know some amazing nurses who never seem to break a sweat or stress!), I think the premise of it is true. Whether you are newly qualified or years qualified, nursing is one of the most challenging professions out there. Having a certain amount of nerves in a stressful job is an entirely normal and human experience.
Recently at Clarity we hosted a webinar for students, pre-registered and newly qualified nurses. The reception we received was amazing and so many nurses had questions for us on agency nursing. One question that was commonly asked was ‘Would you recommend agency nursing straight away for newly qualified nurses?’ While I generally recommend agency for all nurses, I think it’s important for newly qualified nurses to get a little permanent experience (at the very least 6 months and preferably in acute care) in order for them to really find their feet and develop more confidence in the job. As someone who has walked in the shoes of a newly qualified nurse myself, I wanted to write this blog as a guide. This is for the nurses who feel a little daunted by their new job title and might be dealing with some nerves (it happens to the best of us and you are not alone!).
Just because you’re qualified, it doesn’t mean you know everything. Stick to what you know and don’t be afraid to tell your senior colleagues if you don’t know something. Do NOT bluff anything in nursing. It’s not worth the risk to your patient’s safety or to your registration. My quote was always ‘If in doubt, check it out’. The worst that can happen is that a nurse might make you feel silly for not knowing something (however a great nurse will always make you feel good about asking)! Nursing has ongoing continuous professional development for a reason. We are constantly learning and being updated on the correct way to do things. Ask lots of questions as it shows you’re interested!
It can be tempting as a newly qualified nurse to join in on the chatter on the ward and sometimes that can become a little gossip-based. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s generally lighthearted and well-intended banter for the most part. However, sometimes this can head towards a negative aspect and then it can get political. My advice is to stay well away from this as a newly qualified nurse. Don’t weigh in on the opinions and keep your opinions on others to yourself. Don’t get caught up in any ward-based drama and stay professional!
My day-before-my-nursing-shift ritual was always to check that my uniform was clean and ironed, my lunch was prepared and that I had my accessories in order such as my fob watch, notepad and a working pen. This helped me mentally prepare for my shift and also kept me calm the next morning as it meant I wasn’t rushing. I also set my alarm clock a little earlier so I was always on time. It’s natural to feel a little anxious before shifts, especially as a newly qualified nurse. Doing something relaxing like having a hot bath the night before or watching your favourite tv show can help ease tension a little.
When you’re new to a ward you will learn very quickly who your ‘go-to person’ will be to ask for help. If you’re lucky, everyone on the team will be approachable and friendly. If that’s the case, you’ve hit the nursing jackpot! The reality is though, when people are under pressure they might not be as approachable or friendly. Get used to figuring out quickly who are the nice senior nurses you can ask questions to during the day. They’re your ‘go-to person’!
As a new junior nurse on the team it’s always good to be seen to be asking questions and showing engagement in your workplace. It can bring a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm to a ward. Be friendly, smile at others and ask them how they are. Don’t be caught texting on your phone or complaining to your colleagues about the work environment. Voice your concerns in a professional manner. Above all else, it’s important to be seen to be interested in your first job and it reflects well for a reference moving forward.
Working as a newly qualified nurse is HARD. There’s no doubt about it. It can be joyful seeing your patients thrive, but there are many days you might feel like you are overwhelmed working in a fragile health system. I’ve cried many hot tears after some of my shifts in my first six months. Sometimes even in the toilets on my breaks! Something that always helped me is to remind myself that every day I learned something new. Count your mini wins each day. It’s easy to focus on the negatives but it’s more important to count the positives. What are your three mini wins at the end of each shift? They can be the smallest of things. Did you make a patient smile today? Did you finally figure out how to use that awkward microwave in the break room? Write them down and watch yourself grow!
I feel a bit of a hypocrite writing this one as my way of destressing as a newly qualified nurse was to hit Coppers once a week with my nursing buddies. In hindsight though, this didn’t really do me any good. I burnt the candle on both ends as I worked late shifts and then stayed out later, feeling more exhausted in the end. This later had a knock-on effect on stress and tension levels during the week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have fun with nursing friends but everything in moderation. It’s physically a very demanding job and if you don’t care for your body in a healthy way it’s going to be hard to keep up.
It might seem simple, but deep breathing can really help keep you centred. When everything is falling to pieces around you, the ward feels like a battleground, and Mary in room 3 is ringing the bell for the 50,000th time today, just breathe for a moment. Gather your thoughts. Count to ten, breathe again, and then continue. All you have to deal with is this moment. Not tomorrow, not the next day, not ten years time. Just focus on the present moment and dealing with it as best you can. If in doubt, find your nice nurse to help you! I promise you will get through the tough shifts and come out a better, more experienced nurse at the end of it!
For more information on agency nursing please contact me on [email protected]. As a nurse myself I know what it’s like to go through the process and I’m happy to help!