New Grad Survival 101

nurse life

New grads, welcome to the nursing ranks!

Whether you’ve just graduated and haven’t yet taken your boards, have had a go at a few attempts to pass, or you’ve recently received your official ‘pass’ email, come on in! I won’t pretend that everyone will welcome you like that, and I’m not going to tell you, perhaps as did your nursing instructors, that nursing is all rosy and beautiful and whatnot. I’m going to tell you about some of the wonderful experiences you’ll have, and some of the not so wonderful ones to expect.

We’ll start with the less than stellar bits first.

First I want to take the time to tell you that if you don’t already have thick skin, start gettin’ some!

Listen, we love you and are thankful for you, but we’re dealing with people’s lives here. You will most certainly encounter nurses and providers, maybe even your preceptor, that are rough and tough on you. I won’t pretend like I approve of inappropriate behavior (even I have been a smartass at times), but that’s not what I’m referring to. These nurses will drill you like you’re the asteroid from Armageddon (it’s a movie with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck *tear*). They will almost certainly make you feel like you’re incompetent and make you question why you became a nurse, and chances are high they will probably make you cry too. I want you to stop right now, and prepare yourselves for this. I’m impressed that this culture is slowly changing, and I’m proud of it, but it’s still out there and you need to be warned. What I don’t want you to think, however, is that when a nurse is tough on you it means they’re calloused or don’t care. Trust me, they care, a lot, and that’s almost certainly why they’re acting in such a way. They may not say so very often, but they’re proud of everyone they’ve mentored into a successful nurse, and it warms their heart to see you flourish (yes they have a beating heart). My advice on this matter is keep your skin thick and learn from them. Take everything they teach you to heart, in stride, and cast out the way they say it. On to the next one!

Don’t be a know-it-all smartass. NO ONE LIKES THAT. Yes, I used all caps because it’s that important. You may have been a straight A student in nursing school but around here no one cares about that (except maybe the board looking at your CRNA application). I’ll be straight with you, there are nurses who were B and even C students who are some of the most adept, quick-thinking, and skilled nurses. Your degree and grades from school mean absolutely nothing if you can’t provide competent, intelligent patient care.  Should I say it again? I do not care how smart you think you are, if you don’t provide excellent, intelligent, forward thinking patient care, it doesn’t matter. How you apply the knowledge is most important. Leave your grades, degree, and ego at the door; you won’t be needing those here.

Before this post gets too long I’d like to talk about some of the great things you’ll encounter.

Each interdisciplinary team member brings a vast array of knowledge and life-experience to the table, whether they’re techs, new grads, therapists, pharmacists, or hospitality. It’s a game of one hand washes the other. They’ll pick you up when you’re down, help answer your call lights, be your ear, bring you coffee, hold for an IV insertion, and remember your favorite food. Remind yourself to thank each and every member of the team for the help and encouragement they frequently provide! And don’t ever think something is ‘not your job’ or ‘someone else’s’!

Last but not least on the list of numerous things I don’t have time to talk about- your patients. Listen, you’re going to have difficult patients, and that comes with the territory. Understand that each of those opportunities is a learning experience to grow and further develop skills that will help you deal with the even more difficult situations. I can’t count all the burdensome patients I’ve had, there have been numerous. That being said, the ones that are appreciative and thankful, or the days where you as a nurse make a true difference in a patient’s condition are what make all the craziness we endure so worth it. My favorite part about nursing in the ER, besides all the chaos, is the opportunity to teach a patient who is willing to learn! It’s so rewarding for me to teach someone about a condition or diagnosis, answer their questions and watch them walk away fully understanding what they need to be successful at discharge. Don’t be alarmed when a patient that you spent a significant amount time breaking down the teaching points to comes back in for the same thing a few days having completely forgot what you told them. There are those patients, though, who take to heart what you’ve told them. Maybe you see them a few months later for some random unrelated incident and they remember you; they thank you for the last time they were there, and you can see them applying what they’ve learned and they’ve taken control of their care. That’s really exciting stuff!

Maybe you’ve read this post and wonder: “Well what about more practical ideas for being a new grad” . . .There will be future posts on that, but also just trust your preceptors and fellow nurses.

We all want to see you succeed and be great nurses! Don’t doubt yourself all the time, keep asking questions, always do research, and always try your best, nobody likes a quitter.

Chad Bleich
Chad Bleich is a Emergency Room nurse and a passionate photographer. He hails from upstate New York but currently works in Alabama. He enjoys cycling, voiceovers, photography, running, creative writing, writing songs, snowboarding, camping, AND is an Uber driver! See more of his photography on his Instagram @chad_allenphotography