I’ve learned a thing or two from my 25 years of nursing. Since it’s National Nurses Week, I thought I’d share some tips for new graduates that I’ve picked up along the way in this challenging yet rewarding profession.
If you’re just beginning your nursing path, these five tips will hopefully help you survive those early years and sustain a satisfying career.
1. Roll up your sleeves, check your ego and learn from senior nurses.
2. Learn to be uncomfortable.
3. Improve your communication skills and learn to develop boundaries.
4. Develop a routine of self-care, and make it a priority.
5. Be grateful.
Work Hard, But Don’t Become a Robot
Nurses eat their young. It is true. Fortunately the culture of horizontal hostility in nursing is slowly getting the attention it needs, and we can create a more supportive working environment. You will be oriented but not coddled as you embark on your new career. If you play your cards right, you can enroll mentors rather than alienate co-workers. Sharing your fears and insecurity will earn respect from senior nurses. “Faking it till you make it” does not impress them. Save that for your patients. They need you to be confident. It’s hard being a beginner, but if you bring some humor and compassion to yourself, you will learn more in the first year of work than all four years of nursing school combined.
As you carry out orders and complete tasks, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Do not follow orders or protocols like a robot. Develop critical thinking skills, and I guarantee you will save many lives out there.
Learn to be Uncomfortable
We as nurses are surrounded by difficult situations. Most of our patients are in pain. Nurses are right in the trenches with all sorts of body fluids, because we have adapted to being uncomfortable. Remember there are human beings connected to the foul smells of urine, poops, blood, drainage and sputum. You will need to filter your reaction to minimize embarrassment to the patient. Remember, you might be in their shoes one day.
I’ve put leeches on my patient’s thigh flap that was donated to her neck due to head and neck cancer (I don’t like leeches). I sat in the second-hand smoke of a meth addict after I took her out for a cigarette after delivering her baby she would likely not raise, while we discussed informing her mom of her addiction (I don’t particularly like meth addicts or second hand smoke). I have zipped up body bags more times than I care to remember. I have swaddled dead babies in cozy blankets for parents to begin the grieving process. It never gets comfortable, but you will get better at it.
Improve Your Communication Skills
Good communication skills are essential to speak to patients, family members, physicians and co-workers. Hospitals are stressful places, often filled with strong emotions. Occasionally these emotions are inappropriately projected onto nurses. You need to build the skills to establish healthy boundaries so you are not taken advantage of. There are few role models of healthy boundaries in nursing. Nurses are caretakers, and we want people to like us. It is not in our nature to say “no.” You will need to work hard, be a team player and discern when an appropriate boundary needs to be set. Take some time and read one of these books: Non-Violent Communication by Rosenberg, Difficult Conversations by Stone or Crucial Conversation by Patterson. Good communication skills will save lives.
Self-Care is Essential
Nurses are givers. Ask a nurse for a favor and he or she will say yes, often putting his or her needs last. We need to find the balance with caring for our patients and loved ones in our lives with self-care. You will meet many nurses who are stagnant and unhappy in jobs that don’t satisfy them. You will meet nurses who have family and friends that suck the life force from them. They might not admit it, but they love being needed. Negativity is contagious, and it contributes to a toxic workplace, which trickles down to impacting patient care. Learn from these nurses and then find healthy role models and discover how they get support and take care of themselves. Figure out what you need to thrive. Some examples include: an exercise routine, meditation, yoga, massage, time spent with friends that nurture you (rather than demand your care) and vacation time. We as nurses should support and encourage each other to prioritize self-care. Good self-care will improve your effectiveness and safety as a nurse. It can also save your life.
I’ve had job security when others were foreclosing on their homes. I’ve never, ever been limited to only two weeks of vacation per year. My nursing license has gotten me out of two speeding tickets (and yes, I should slow down). I’ve had the flexibility to work nationally and internationally. Boredom has never been a factor because I’ve challenged myself with opportunities in various specialties. I now have the opportunity to teach and help nurses create balance in their busy lives with my company, The Balanced Nurse. I am continually inspired by the changes created by nurses working with me to create meaningful and satisfying lives.
Are there any other nurses out there who can add to this list? What have you learned through your years of experience?
Learn more about Eileen and her coaching at The Balanced Nurse.