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Get Over the Wall as a First-Year Nurse

Get Over the Wall as a First-Year Nurse

Megan Malugani | Monster Contributing Writer

Anticipate Reality Shock

Many first-year nurses participate in structured orientation programs and enjoy low patient loads and lots of help from preceptors and mentors for their first few months on the job. Then reality shock hits when the first-year nurse starts working more independently. “It’s common for nurses to go through a slump of discouragement and to feel inadequate and overwhelmed, starting anywhere from their fourth to sixth month on the job,” says Stacy Thomson, RN, MSN, a nurse educator/intern coordinator at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. “If they hang in there, they’ll feel a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment around the nine-month mark.”

Separate the Personal from the Professional

One of the biggest mistakes new nurses make is taking things personally instead of professionally, Thomson says. “Family members can be very challenging, and patients in pain can be very irritable,” she says. “Professionally, you have to step back and pull out your psychosocial skills and realize that people are in stress, and it’s not personal.”

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Surviving your first year as a nurse will likely be one of the biggest challenges you will face in your career. Almost universally, first-year nurses have days, weeks or months when they feel overwhelmed, inadequate, disillusioned, stressed out or all of the above. If you’re thinking, “Was I really cut out for this job?” these tips can help you get through your first year as a nurse with your sanity, confidence and love of the profession intact.

Seek Support

Socializing and sharing stories with your former nursing classmates or other new nurses at your facility will help put your struggles into perspective. Hearing a nurse who is a few months further along say, “Hang on, it will get better” or “I’ve done the same thing you just did” can validate your experiences and provide support, Thomson says.

Surviving your first year as a nurse will likely be one of the biggest challenges you will face in your career. Almost universally, first-year nurses have days, weeks or months when they feel overwhelmed, inadequate, disillusioned, stressed out or all of the above. If you’re thinking, “Was I really cut out for this job?” these tips can help you get through your first year as a nurse with your sanity, confidence and love of the profession intact.

Remember Why You Became a Nurse

In the end, Flynn and Kuehn both say the wonderful aspects of nursing outweigh the challenges. “There are days you argue or get your feelings hurt or get screamed at, and you go home and don’t feel great,” Flynn says. But then the next day, a child may draw you a picture or a parent will thank you, making you feel good about that part of the job, she says. “Whether or not we’re happy all the time in what we’re doing, most of us feel like we were meant to do it,” she says.

Adds Kuehn: “I always thought it would be magical, saving lives every day. In fact, it is a very stressful job when you’re first starting out. Just remember that everyone has to start somewhere.”

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  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 1 year ago

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  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    I am glad there is a place for nurses to express their thoughts and feelings and get support from others. I am starting my first RN job in a week. I have heard from other nurses that one's first year on the job is when new nurses learn the most. It seems that Nursing school lays the foundation of knowledge and skill, but the real learning happens on the job as new experiences present themselves. I believe we will never be fully prepared ahead of time for what we are about to be challenged with, I just hope I can find enough calmness within myself in the midst of the storm to ask the right questions and partner with the resourses available to me to get through each situation. I think of the term "grace under fire" and hope that I can take it all in stride. Great article and comments from others. Thanks!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 6 years ago


    I could not agree more ! I started out on a large ICU and got "thrown to the wolves"! Not only was it scary, frustrating, ego-busting, humbling, etc. but DANGEROUS to patient care! Amazingly, this seems to be "standard" for new nurses across the board, regardless of unit, hospital, area of the country, etc.!!! This is crazy! What can we do about this? As was already mentioned, much of it has to do w/ short-staffing, etc. Even the "nice", helpful vetern nurses are swamped w/ their own assignments and have little time to mentor once orientation is over.
    I too went home crying and feeling totally depressed, and inept most nights; and have left the ICU for now.
    I'm very disillusioned, as this is a "second career" and one I feel "called" to do. I'm just praying I can find the right "fit" for me. Like others have said, it IS comforting to now I/we are not alone; but it's still very difficult to deal with! I wish everyone the best; hang in there!! :)

  • Wiyuna1_max50


    about 6 years ago


    good tips for me ^_^

  • Stephs_wedding2_max50


    about 6 years ago


    I have been a nurse for 10 months now. I have had the ups and downs and I am happy where I am. I work on a women/children's unit. For the most part it's a good place to work. I was stuck with a few patients that I never should have had as a new nurse and that was aggravating. The scariest thing for me was after 3 months (as a nurse and this was my first job) I had to work the floor alone. I was the only nurse for 8 patients with one tech and a unit secretary. I was also getting screwed over by one of the night nurses. I got orders to DC at patient home at 1840 while I was giving her report on that patient and she made me do all of the paperwork and DC the patient. I stayed an hour over for that. I didn't know any better then; I do now. I thought as long as I got the order on my shift then I had to carry out the order. She let me go right on believing that for a couple of months until one of the nurses from the other day shift (not the one that I work with) told me what was going on.

  • Cow_picture_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Great survival tips, Cant wait to be a Nurse!!

  • 1024963740_m_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Let me just say Amen! Glad to know we all go through pretty much the same feelings and doubts and it will get better.

  • 006_max50


    about 6 years ago


    This article came at exactly the right time for me. I work on a transplant ICU that is a new unit, so it is mostly new RNs; and I just got off of a 16 week orientation after graduating in May and passing my boards in July. I feel overwhelmed on a daily basis, and have left work basically in tears the last 3 weeks, just feeling like I am not doing a very good job. It is extremely hard being part of a new unit opening; at times having very high acuity patients, then the next week having med-surg patients. Last night was the first night in at least two weeks I have left not in tears... I had a very sick patient that I actually took care of and just had reassurance from a couple of other nurses that I was doing a good job. Thanks for the article, and the hope that one day it will get better even if at times we still have that feeling of being overwhelmed at times!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago


    I 100% agree with Ron. I also started in July. I work in the NICU level III. I thought that I was ready for that next level because I felt confident in my level II work. I was wrong. The things that I loved about the NICU were not there in the more critical NICU. I have a hard time accepting that and now I am trying a couple of other units and hopefully finding my right fit. I am stressed, frustrated, and pretty sad on a regular basis. It's really hard to fill good about your decision when you feel that way all the time. I thought the article was good, did it help, sort of. I have heard it before but I think that it helps to hear it more and from a lot more people. It just shows that even though you might feel alone regarding your thoughts and frustrations, you really aren't alone!! If anything that helps a lot. C. RN

  • Dsc_0849_max50


    about 6 years ago


    This was a very good article. I am a new nurse. I graduated in May 2008, started on the floor in July, and I have been on my own for a little over a month. I work on a Telemetry / Stepdown Unit, and I am looking for another job. I feel all the stress, frustration, and feelings of being inadequate on a daily basis. I have honestly been somewhat frightened that I may ever find a place where I don't dread going to work. This article validates my feelings further and makes me realize that what I am going through is normal. Thanks, Ron. RN.

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