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5 Things All New Nurses Should Know

5 Things All New Nurses Should Know

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.

Be Grateful

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.

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Eileen Spillane

In addition to a rich background of twenty-five years in nursing, Eileen is also trained as an Adult Nurse Practitioner with a holistic/integrative medicine specialty from NYU. She is a graduate of the four-year healing program, Barbara Brennan School of Healing. Eileen is a certified integral coach from New Ventures West.  She is a long time meditator and student of Buddhism and teaches meditation. She works with nurses and nursing students individually and in groups to create and maintain balance so that nurses may live fulfilling lives.  She also inspires nurses through classes, speaking at conference, consulting with hospitals and maintains a weekly blog at The Balanced Nurse.


+ add your own
1:53AM PST on Dec 20, 2014

Thank you!

7:17PM PDT on Nov 1, 2014

* Be an advocate for good health
* Empower your patients to take responsibility for their own health

2:23PM PDT on Aug 21, 2014

Learn from your elders.

10:12AM PDT on May 22, 2014

I was recently in the hospital for a number of days. Every nurse and aid there were helpful, caring and patient. As someone who is private about bodily needs (i.e., getting help from others while incapacitated) they were very very good at making me more comfortable. May all nurses get high praise always, they do make the world a better place.

9:23AM PDT on May 16, 2014

They work hard; daughter is one

8:10PM PDT on May 15, 2014


1:34AM PDT on May 14, 2014

also, never be afraid to ask questions or help from a co-worker

10:06PM PDT on May 13, 2014

Thank you

2:56AM PDT on May 13, 2014

tks for posting

2:53AM PDT on May 13, 2014

Proud to have nurses and doctors in our family

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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