Starting your very first nursing job comes with a lot of challenges. Just thinking about them can make you feel super pressured and anxious.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to make your adjustment period easier. Check out these 101 essential survival tips every new nurse must know:
1. Never be afraid to ask questions. There is always something to learn in the field of nursing.
2. Learn to admit your mistake. If you plan to keep it forever, bigger problems may arise in the end. Your colleagues will understand if you admit your mistake and they will help you solve it.
3. Always clarify if you have doubts. Never hesitate to clarify a detail regarding your patient’s care if you are unsure about it.
4. Always think before you answer. Whenever the patient, the relative, or the doctor is asking you some questions, think of the safest way to answer first. This is also the best thing to do if you are not sure about your response.
5. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. You cannot always predict how peaceful or how chaotic your shift will be, so always be prepared.
6. Keep up with your charts and task as they come up. If you save them for later, there might not be enough time to complete them. Remember that you cannot fully anticipate when you will be really busy.
7. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you need to pee, don’t hold it as it will just take few minutes of your time. If you need to hydrate yourself, drink before continuing with your tasks. Most nurses delay the little things they need because they focus on finishing a task but in reality, if you are too hard on yourself the work you do will be greatly affected.
8. Stay away from negative people in your area. Being a nurse is already a tough job and it will be helpful to have a positive outlook in your work. Don’t get involved in negative actions, such as gossiping at work.
9. Eat between tasks. Nurses are usually deprived of precious time to eat so learn the trick of eating between tasks.
10. Before calling a doctor, always make a list of the things you need to mention. You can’t fully trust your memory when talking through a phone call especially when the doctor is always in a hurry.
11. Invest in your footwear. You will walk a lot in your entire nursing career so wear appropriate nursing shoes that are made for ultimate comfort and durability.
12. Always be on time. Being late is an addicting habit and you need to break it early. No nurse wants to get home late – keep that in mind when receiving the nurse from the previous shift.
13. Learn to be assertive. You must be always confident with what you are doing even if you have little idea about it. How can the patient trust you if you are not confident?
14. Avoid being involved in workplace gossips. It will do nothing good to your career as a nurse.
15. Get some sleep whenever possible. Inefficiency at work happens when you don’t get enough sleep. You are also more prone to medical errors when you don’t have enough rest. Consider investing in the best sleep aids, particularly if you’re working night shifts.
16. Never leave a room saying that you will be back in a minute. That minute might never come as you can’t predict when you will be busy.
17. If you are unfamiliar with the drug you are about to give, always take time to look it up. The patient has the right to know about the drug he/she will receive so you should be armed with the correct information and the precautions to take.
18. Keep in mind that a good conversation is better than medicine.
19. No one has the right to make you feel incompetent unless you allow them to. Whether you are a new graduate or a veteran nurse with 20 years of experience, there is no reason for someone to make you feel incompetent.
20. Make your statement short and precise when calling a doctor in the middle of the night. These doctors are usually sleepy and you will need to relay your concern straight-to-the-point so they can quickly understand you.
21. Extend a helping hand to your colleagues when they need it. You will soon realize how helpful it is to have caring co-workers.
22. Don’t fully trust an IV pump. Manually check the rate and volume of the IV fluid during your rounds.
23. When being assigned to a new unit, know where the emergency drugs and equipment are kept. This is important so you can efficiently do codes in case of emergency.
24. When mixing high-risk IV bags or medications, always ask an experienced RN to watch you. This will give you confidence and security that you have prepared the right medication.
25. Invest in continuing education as a nurse. This is helpful in updating and improving your skills and knowledge.
26. Always carry a penlight in your pocket especially during night shifts. You will need it for assessments.
27. Remain calm all the time. Do this to focus on the things that should be prioritized, especially during stressful times.
28. Be careful with your charting. Remember that if it is not charted, it was never done. Your charting will be very significant in case a lawsuit is brought against the hospital.
29. Whenever you are about to do a procedure like dressing change or Foley catheter insertion, bring two of everything. This will save you time and energy if something unexpected happens while doing the procedure.
30. Use a lighted or glow-in-the-dark watch. You will need this in taking vital signs at night.
31. Educate the patient and the patient’s relatives. Health education is an important part of patient care.
32. Always get the right size of gloves for your hands. Gloves work better when they fit your hands perfectly.
33. Maintain your nursing competency. Take trainings and certifications to update your skills and knowledge.
34. If you feel that you are not growing professionally in your chosen field of nursing, explore other options. You can move to forensic nursing if you feel that hospital-based practice is not for you. There are lots of sub-specialties of nursing that you can explore like school nursing, community health nursing, and many more.
35. Know your scope of practice very well. Review your state’s laws in patient care as well as the Nurse Practice Act. Your state’s Nurse Practice Act will guide you in your responsibilities and limitations in working as a nurse.
36. Be a nursing ambassador. Just remember that wherever you go, you are representing the nursing profession. Your actions, hygiene, and attitude should reflect the nursing profession you have worked hard for.
37. Never forget the reason why you became a nurse. Think about it whenever you are feeling tired, down or burnt-out from work. It will help you go through the rough times of being a nurse.
38. You will easily get tired if you start the night shift with a lot of sugar or coffee. Try having a cup of tea instead.
39. Constantly reassess patient’s pain. Learn to anticipate when you will need to have a pain medication ordered especially if you are the night shift nurse.
40. Always appear calm and relaxed even though you are freaking out inside. You will need this to calm down your patient’s relatives in times of critical conditions.
41. Keep these items in your pocket – bandage scissor, tape, hemostat, alcohol swabs, cotton balls and saline flush. These items are always useful in providing bedside care. If you can’t keep them in your pocket, place these essential items in your bag.
42. There are so many things that need to be done, but always dedicate at least 10 minutes of your shift for charting. Only pain meds and emergencies will disturb that 10 minutes allotted for chart work.
43. Treat yourself at the end of a tiring shift. This will give you the energy and motivation to continue the next day.
44. Wear compression stockings. Nursing involves a lot of footwork and prolonged standing. Take care of your legs early so you can avoid developing varicose veins.
See Also: Best Compression Stockings for Nurses
45. Bring bottled drinks, packed lunch and sandwiches. Do this so you will not need to hurry down to the cafeteria whenever you need to re-energize yourself.
46. Be open to suggestions. If your senior nurse suggests an easier way to do a task, try it. Experience is the best teacher and your senior nurses know it very well.
47. Look at the patient holistically.
48. When you are working under a preceptor, ask all the questions you have in your mind. Your preceptor’s teaching style will not always fit your learning needs.
49. Organize the things you need to do. Writing them down on a piece of paper will help you remember them. Prioritize which needs to be done first. You can also use it as a guide in doing your shift report and charting.
50. Group your tasks. Efficiency is key in easing down your workload. For example, when giving medications to a patient, you can also take his/her vital signs and do physical assessment.
51. Get to know everyone in your unit. You don’t need to make friends with them even outside work but getting to know them will help you adjust to your assigned unit and feel more comfortable asking for help.
52. Your first year as a nurse is the toughest. All nurses who are new in the profession undergo the same period of adjustment, so be patient.
53. Avoid complaining. Complaining at work affects the mood of your co-workers so if you don’t want to be labeled, keep your complaints to yourself.
54. Find time to exercise. Exercising is a great stress-reliever and will help you stay fit for work.
55. Delegate tasks. You can’t do all the work alone and this is the reason why you have nursing assistants. Delegate simple tasks to them in a respectful manner and ask their opinions as well about patient care. Through this way, they will feel that they are an important part of the healthcare team.
56. Develop your own support system. It’s helpful to talk about your problems at work with someone who understands it well.
57. Set goals. Where would you want to be in 5 years? Setting your career goals will help you maximize your profession as a nurse. You should make room for growth.
58. Find something you enjoy doing which has nothing to do with nursing. A hobby will help you direct your attention away from nursing while at home.
59. While you are still under the orientation program, watch every procedure you will encounter in the unit. The more seasoned nurses have their own tricks in doing certain procedures like Foley catheter insertion, dressing changes and bed bath. Always take notes.
60. Learn to say “No.” If you know that your time will be compromised and you don’t really like it, refuse your co-worker’s request.
61. Leave your personal struggles at the door. Forget all your problems at home when you are at your unit. Remember that medication errors usually happen when the nurse is distracted.
62. When finding your first nursing job, don’t just grab whatever is available. Imagine the work burnout that you will experience if you will accept a job in a nursing home when in fact, you are more inclined to pediatric nursing. If you want to stay long in the nursing field, pick the first nursing job that you really like.
63. Have a work-life balance.
64. Find a mentor in your workplace. A supportive veteran nurse will help you go through the tough times.
65. Get to know the extent of your job. Keep in mind the job description you signed up for. It will help you know your responsibilities and limitations in the institution you are working for. If you feel that you are out of the boundaries of your work as a nurse, consult your institution’s handbook of policies. You can also try talking with your nurse manager.
66. Be flexible. If you are asked to float in another unit for extra help, accept it. You will learn a lot from floating to other units.
67. When you have experienced all the hardships of being a nurse, you will have nothing to fear for. If you run three codes in a single shift, the next time you have a code you will know what to do very well. The same thing applies when inserting IV lines; when you have done IV insertion hundreds of times, you will feel that it is now easy to do venipunctures.
68. When talking with a doctor over the phone, write everything you hear. There’s an old saying that we forget 80% of what we hear, so take down notes.
69. If you make mistakes, don’t dwell on them. What’s important is you learn from your mistakes and move on.
70. In your first nursing job, feel privileged if your orientation phase takes too long. It’s better to make mistakes with your preceptor than to commit those mistakes alone and have no idea what to do.
71. If you are overwhelmed by the many things you need to do and you can’t decide which ones to prioritize, try singing a song. It will relax your mind and you will get more focused on the tasks ahead.
72. Don’t apologize for doing your job. If you need to call the attending physician at the middle of the night, go ahead.
73. Before giving a cardiac medication, always check the patient’s vital signs first. The same thing is true for diuretics.
74. When taking care of pediatric patients with complex illnesses, believe what the parents say. Most of the time, they know more about their child’s disease than you do.
75. When asking questions to your patients, always be specific and direct to the point.
76. No matter how tired or stressed out you are, always approach your patients with positivity and a big smile. They are at the hospital because they have illnesses and they will thank you for being the bright part of their day.
77. Join a professional organization.
78. After you finish your assessment during your rounds, chart it immediately. You might forget what you have assessed when you are already preoccupied with other tasks.
79. Get to know your nursing assistants, UAPs, techs and housekeepers. They make your tasks easier and can even teach you a couple of survival tricks to boot.
80. Go to staff meetings. You don’t have to talk but you should appear attentive. In this way, your nurse manager and supervisors will remember you easily.
81. When you’re faced with a crisis and you don’t know what to do, always start with the basics. Get the patient’s vital signs, ask their level of pain or assess their level of consciousness. The other important assessments will stem out from here.
82. Go to social functions of your unit. You’ll be amazed by the things you don’t know about the people you are working with.
83. Develop the habit of learning about the medication you are about to give. Look it up on drug handbooks and watch out for drug interactions. Over time, you will soon memorize the medications frequently given in your unit.
84. Listen to your inner voice. Nurses have this gut feeling that they can trust if they suspect that there is something wrong with the patient.
85. Invest in a good stethoscope. A stethoscope can last for a lifetime and it will be your primary buddy in doing assessments.
86. Leave your work at the hospital. Go home with peace in your mind. It is unfair to think about what you might have forgotten to do at work when you are already at home with your family.
87. Maintain your integrity. Never do anything shady. If you gave the wrong medication, report it. If your patient fell off the bed, report it immediately to your nurse manager. Your patient’s life is always more important than anything else.
88. When the more seasoned nurses grill you at your report, don’t take it personally. Remember that they know more than you so take this opportunity to learn from them.
89. Never lift or move someone without asking for help. Always take care of your back.
90. You can use a BP cuff as your tourniquet when starting an IV line in an elderly patient. Using a BP cuff as a tourniquet will let you control the pressure applied to the veins. Elderly patients have weak veins that can easily blow when punctured under high pressure.
91. When giving medications, double-check everything. Remember the 5 rights – right medication, right patient, right time, right dose and right route.
92. If you are not really sure about something, ask three people about it. For example, if you are not sure that the ordered dose is correct, ask the opinions of your senior nurses.
93. Label your own stethoscope and pens. These two things usually get lost in hospitals. It is easy to replace missing pens but you should take care of your stethoscope well as it is expensive.
94. Never lie to your patient. If it’s awkward or inappropriate to say, find a way to say it without lying. How can patients trust their nurse if you will lie to them?
95. Do physical assessment properly as it will serve as the foundation of your care. Don’t take it for granted; there are many health problems that you can detect by just doing a complete physical assessment at the beginning of your shift.
96. Use proper body mechanics all the time. You might say that you are too young to have your back or knees injured but in the long run, you will realize how important it is in maintaining your physical stamina at work.
97. Always disinfect your stethoscope each time you use it. Remember that your patients are sick and they already have a weak immune system, so don’t pass the infection to them.
98. Always check for IV infiltration at the beginning of your shift. Is the patient’s IV site is swollen? Does it hurt? You should be extra watchful for IV infiltration among pediatric patients.
99. Always practice hand washing. If it’s time-consuming for you, do hand rubbing with an antimicrobial solution.
100. Be assertive but don’t pretend that you know something very well in front of your co-nurses. They will know if you are faking your skill. Be humble and ask them to teach you.
101. If you feel like giving up, remember the reason why you decided to become a nurse. Senior nurses usually advise new nurses to let a year pass before they decide to give up. That one year is the adjustment phase; be patient and motivate yourself always!