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10 Survival Tips for New Nurses

By Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC  


     When you’re a new nurse, it’s easy to become anxious about doing everything right and starting your career on the right foot.

We know it can be difficult making the transition from student to professional. So we’ve put together the top 10 tips to help you survive your first few months and set yourself up for a long, successful career.

1. Find a mentor


     If your hospital or workplace doesn’t have a mentorship program, it’s a good idea to find one yourself.


If you work with a nurse whom you admire and is simply awesome at what they do, you can watch them quietly and learn from how they go about their work. This is a silent mentoring relationship where you just learn through association and observation.

If that isn’t your style, you could actually verbalize your wish for a mentor to the nurse in question. This could involve setting up a regular meeting for you to ask questions and receive coaching, or it could be more of an informal, as-needed arrangement.

2. Ask questions


     There’s a saying that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask what you think are dumb questions. New nurses have a lot to learn, and if you act like you know everything, how will you ever learn?

No one expects you to have all the answers, so don’t be shy -- be curious and ask questions. Most managers and coworkers would much rather have you ask questions than do something incorrectly.

You may also find that asking questions helps you remember the information longer and more accurately. 

3. Be a team player


     Great nursing takes collaboration between those involved in a patient’s care.

Be helpful. Offer to pitch in, volunteer, and show your peers that you’re approachable, cooperative, and willing to help when things get hectic.

4. Slow down


     When you’re stressed out at work, your initial reaction might be to move faster and try to do more. This might seem like the best way to get caught up, but we all know that rushing can lead to mistakes.

Remember: faster isn’t always better, even when you’re behind.

5. Cluster your care


     Planning ahead and grouping certain patient care tasks can help you be more efficient and do less unnecessary running around. It gives your patients more time to rest, and helps you with #4.

6. Get organized


     Organization will automatically help you with #4 and #5. If you can come up with systems that help you be more organized and efficient, you’ll be able to slow down, cluster your tasks, and provide better nursing care. If you can find a mentor (see #1) who is highly organized and efficient, this can set you up for success. Organized nurses use anything from clipboards to smartphone apps –just figure out what works best for you. 

7. Feed your mind


     Running on caffeine and sugar is not going to help your brain function at the highest level. It’s very common for nurses to miss regular food breaks, but feeding your body is essential. If you know a sit-down meal isn’t going to happen very often, pack healthy snacks that will get you through the day. 

8. Hydrate your brain and body


     Chugging coffee throughout your shifts will certainly give you some energy, but it acts as a diuretic and can lead to dehydration.

Your body and brain need water. Make sure you drink enough to at least keep your urine clear and your mucous membranes moist. Stay hydrated at all times. 

9. Keep learning


     There’s no end to what we need to learn as nurses, so allow your natural  curiosity move you to keep learning.

Find out what excites you most about nursing by reading journal articles and blogs, listening to podcasts, or watching videos. If in-person learning is more your thing, try attending conferences, seminars, and webinars that feed your nurse brain with high-quality learning. 

10. Take time for yourself


     Nurses work hard, but we also need to play hard. Make sure you have time for family, friends,, hobbies, travel, and plain old relaxation. This will do wonders for your own well-being and personal fulfillment.

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach, award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.

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