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10 Tips to Survive Your First Year in Nursing

Congratulations, you passed your NCLEX-RN Exam! This is something to be incredibly proud of. You now have a job to start, and it’s likely that you’re feeling a little nervous. Luckily, this article will provide some important tips to help you survive your first year in nursing.

1. Remember that it's okay not to know it all.

You may start out on a unit with other nurses who have more experience than you. There’s no need to worry about being a newbie because every nurse has been in your shoes. It's completely okay to let everyone know that you are new and unfamiliar with the unit. Emphasize how you’ve recently passed your NCLEX and you are excited to embark on the journey to becoming the best bedside nurse you can be.

2. Stay open to learning.

You’re finally done with the grueling hours of nursing school, and you’ve passed the most nerve-wracking exam of your life. That means you’re free, right? Think again. As exciting as it is to be done with school, it’s important to stay in "school mode." You will be learning every single day, and then coming home and studying the new material. Do some required unit competencies, and don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Never stop learning!

3. Ask all the questions.

New employees know to ask their preceptor if they have problems, but it’s important to learn from others too! Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner questions, as well as other nurses. And don’t forget about other people who are involved in making patients happy - dietary employees, housekeeping, secretaries, nurse aides, and more. Everyone has something to offer, and you are the new employee who will gain valuable knowledge from each of them. Asking questions will help you survive your first year in nursing.

4. Look up what you don't know ...at home.

It's okay to look up something especially important while on the job, such as a rare diagnosis or new medication. However, it’s important to study the bulk of unknown material at home. This additional education will ensure that you’re prepared when the issue comes up in the future.

5. Help others, and you'll receive help in return.

At the beginning stages of your nursing job, you will be tackling how to prioritize and learning your role as the RN caring for the patient. There's no clinical instructor or preceptor by your side - you’re on your own. This can be frightening for a new nurse, but you’ll eventually get your routine down. After you have completed your key tasks with your patients, offer assistance to others. This can be as simple as grabbing their patient a water or popsicle or assisting them with the bathroom. The nurse you help will likely remember this and return the favor, creating an overall collaborative place to work. Compassion will help survive your first year in nursing.

6. Jump right in.

Need more IV skills? Looking to observe a procedure at the bedside with an MD? It's time to jump in. If you haven't had a lot of experience, it's your responsibility to seek out as much new knowledge as you can. As scary as it may seem, remind yourself that you are fully capable. In this case, hands-on experience is the best way to learn!

7. There’s no such thing as “doing too much.”

Think about your patients and why you are valuable to them. Your primary purpose is to care for them. Don’t feel bad about bothering a patient with an extra set of vitals or another assessment. You are your patient's strongest advocate, and it’s okay to be overprotective!

8. Ask your educator for help.

Most units and hospitals have hospital educators. If there is something you are struggling with, your educator will guide you with open arms. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and no one will look down on you for seeking assistance. You’ll eventually have to master all the unknown material, so you may as well figure it out now.

9. Communicate effectively.

As a new nurse, you know how important it is to educate your patients. You may have gone as far as memorizing exactly what you have to tell a patient about their diagnosis. However, don’t forget to use the most important communication tool - listening. This will help you understand the gap in their education. You can then fill that gap with your knowledge.

10. Self-care

To survive your first year as a nurse, it’s especially important to take care of yourself! Make sure that you're fully hydrated at the beginning of your long day, and that you have plenty of healthy snacks with you. On your days off, rest as much as you can. Also, remember that you are done with school - so don’t forget to have fun and enjoy yourself when you can! 

Many nurses say that “it gets easier” after the first year. While this is true, also know that there will be "blood, sweat and tears" along the way. 

10 Tips to Survive Your First Year in Nursing
Janine Kelbach

Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB is a freelance writer and owner of WriteRN.net.