9 Tips to Help You Survive Your First Year as a Nurse

male nurse smiling and proud he survived his first year as an RN
Written by
Miranda Kay, RN
May 15, 2023

Table of Contents

Unlike the physical education and training path, which provides a transition period (residency) between the classroom and clinical hours to direct practice work, the nursing industry sends newly licensed nurses directly to work. The question of how to become a nurse is often answered by focusing on the steps required to reach the point of licensure and looking for registered nursing (RN) jobs.

While recent research and discussions among nurse advocates have identified the need for better transitions for nursing students into the field, it remains a reality that the shift can be abrupt. In the face of the challenges of being a new nurse, experienced nurses can provide valuable insights that may help new nurses not only survive their first year in direct practice but grow and thrive during it. Here are some suggestions, insights, and tips from experienced nurses that could help new RNs have what it takes to make it in nursing. 

1. Mental Shift from Theoretical to Direct Application

The nursing school focuses on theoretical knowledge and hypothetical situations. Clinical hours are a vital component of nursing training, and yet often are experienced under ideal circumstances when it comes to nurse-to-patient ratios and time management, which is often not the case in reality. New nurses have to work to shift their mindset from theoretical, critical thinking to direct application critical thinking.

2. Time Management Skills Develop with Practice

All new nurses have time management skills; they were necessary, after all, to balance classes, classwork, studying for exams, and clinical hours with their other life responsibilities. Nevertheless, these time management skills will be further developed in the workplace. Adaptations to higher nurse-to-patient ratios will force this development, as well as complex patient cases requiring more attention and care.

3. Experienced Nurses Know

Experienced nurses sometimes express frustration that new nurses arrive overly confident and unwilling to listen or learn from them. In the workplace, an attitude that presents a willingness to listen and learn coupled with serious questions in order to better understand orders or procedures can help not only in forming positive relationships with staff members but in establishing a relationship as a new nurse who values experienced nurses' insights and knowledge.

4. Learning Doesn't End Just Because School Did

No matter the nursing programs, the clinical hours, and the GPAs, new nurses still have a lot left to learn. This ties in with shifting critical thinking to direct practice situations from the theoretical and listening to experienced nurses. Asking questions to better understand is expected from new nurses and will help prevent unnecessary mistakes. The entire journey of a nurse's career is one of continuous learning, and in the first year after graduation and licensure, this is especially true.

5. Careful with Complaining

Complaints are common in workplaces across industries, and yet when expressed too often or without care to the audience, they can be destructive to working relationships and the work atmosphere. Take care of complaints about a task, a work situation, or a facility. While denial is hardly considered a positive strategy, there is a reason that the saying "if you don't have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all" has been around for generations. When new nurse complains continuously about their job, they may be alienating their coworkers, the very people they need guidance and support from.

6. Search for Work-Life Balance

A true challenge that all nurses may face at some point in their careers, one even new nurses are susceptible to, is nurse burnout. Looking for hobbies, connections with friends or family, and other responsibilities that are separate from nursing may help you find that work-life balance that will help you recharge when you're off the clock.

7. Be Punctual

Hospitals and facilities run on shifts that rely on staff being present for the entirety of the shift, starting from the very first minute. Timeliness sends a message of respect and reliability to your teammates, which is necessary to establish trusted working relationships.

8. Invest in Good Shoes

New nurses are on their feet more than ever, and the body has to adjust. The shoes that worked for clinical hours might not be up to snuff for the rigors of a working nurse's schedule. Shoes that protect and cushion the feet are an investment; sore feet can develop into longer-term problems. Part of self-care is taking care of the physical self, and that includes the feet.

9. Always Lend a Helping Hand

Nursing is a job industry not suited for the weak. With that being said, as a new nurse, you might experience some downtime in the early days as you are getting your feet wet. It's always a good idea, no matter what point you are in your career, to pitch in and help out when you can. For example, when an admission hits the floor, and the nurse who is receiving the patient is already slammed, something as simple as helping their other patients for a moment while the nurse receives the patient and report helps the entire team. Keep in mind; this suggestion is for when you have the time and are able to help - always lend a helping hand.

New Nurses Strengthen the Industry

Despite the challenges new nurses face in the first year of work, there is much satisfaction to be gained as well. Learning while doing can be a motivating force to improve and expand knowledge and skills. New nurses are a vital cadre in the nursing industry, and as nursing advocates and systems work to establish resources, supports, and improvements, all of which are integral strategies for the improvement of nursing in healthcare, new nurses are strengthening the industry by filling shifts and vacancies across the nation to provide safe patient care.

Blog published on:
May 15, 2023

Miranda is a Registered Nurse, Medical Fact Checker, and Publishing Editor at Nursa. Her work has been featured in publications including the American Nurses Association (ANA), Healthcare IT Outcomes, International Living, and more.

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