One word comes to mind when I think back on my first year as a nurse: overwhelmed! There was so much to know, so much to do, and still so much more to learn that I spent the entire first year of my career feeling like there were too many balls in the air and at any minute they would all come crashing down on me. But, in all those feelings of enormity, I learned some great lessons about myself and my profession.
I just knew that when I graduated from nursing school and passed the NCLEX-RN that I wanted to work as a circulating nurse in the OR. My aunt had been working in that specialty for a number of years and since she was my inspiration for becoming a nurse, I couldn’t wait to follow in her footsteps. I was incredibly fortunate to find my first job at a large, metropolitan hospital. Even better, it was a specialty training program for the OR. I spent my first few weeks as an RN in the OR setting learning the ins and outs of my new role. Sounds great, right? Well, sort of.
I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t like the OR. It’s a great place to be for the right person but it just didn’t fit with what I loved most about nursing. I felt like I didn’t get to know my patients. Panic set in when I wondered what I should do next. Luckily for me, fate intervened and I was able to move to another state about the same time I was contemplating leaving this first position.
Fast forward a month or two and I found myself in another state working in a much smaller hospital. I was assigned to postpartum, labor and delivery, and normal newborn nursery. I had found my calling! I loved interacting with my patients and providing the much-needed education that comes with being new moms and dads. These patients made me happy. However, somewhere in the bliss of finding my clinical home, I also found myself feeling anxious about my work.
I wasn’t truly prepared for the amount of work I was called to do each and every shift. I worried constantly about making the right choices and making sure that everything was done and nothing was forgotten. I found myself feeling a bit like I didn’t know what I was supposed to know.
The other nurses I worked with moved seamlessly through their shifts while I struggled. It wasn’t a good feeling. I also didn’t feel like the nurses I was working with were very supportive of my newbie nurse status. I was left to figure things out on my own much of the time and not in a constructive way. I persevered and muddled through and eventually moved jobs one more time to an even smaller, rural hospital where I finished out my first year as a nurse (still in the OB specialty).
What can you learn from my first year as nurse? Here are some of the most important things my first year as a nurse taught me.
It’s ok to change your mind. Even if you think you know exactly what you want to do, what specialty you want to work in, it is ok to make changes if you find out it isn’t working for you. We all have different strengths and sometimes it takes trying on a few jobs before you find the one for you.
Focus on your clinical skills. I put this one in the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” category. While I was so fortunate to find my first job in a specialty , I look back now and wish I had done at least year in a more generalized clinical setting. This would have strengthened all of my clinical skills and might have made my transition to practice a little less overwhelming.
Find a mentor or a nurse friend. It is always easier to have help. Seek out an experienced nurse as a mentor or friend who can help you process your day to day. I did not have very supportive colleagues most of the time but I was very grateful to have many friends in the profession that I could count on to help me find the answers to my questions or to point me in the direction of the resources I needed.
You won’t have all the answers. This one is big for me so if you get nothing else out of this post, I hope this part sticks. Being a new nurse is overwhelming. Give yourself time, grace, and patience to find what works. Always be safe and use your best nursing judgement but realize you aren’t perfect. It will take time to move seamlessly through your shift like the experienced nurses you see around you. Don’t compare yourself. It will only add to your stress.
Every nurse will have a different story of their first year. For some, it will come easy. For others, it will be hard. But, we can all agree that looking back provides us with a unique perspective and some valuable lessons learned to pass on. Each year as a nurse has brought me something new. I have gone back to school (twice) and pursued avenues I never thought I’d ever want to follow.
It has been a rich and rewarding journey full of lessons along the way. In many ways, my first year as a nurse helped me identify where I wanted my career to go. I hope you enjoyed the story of my first year as nurse and have gained a little insight on what you might need to know as you begin your career.
Learn more about NCLEX For Nursing.