To my future self, never forget what it felt like to be a new nurse. The first year of practice was probably one of the toughest you’ll ever experience, but know there is so much more growth in store for you as a registered nurse. This is only the beginning, but ten, twenty, years from now you’ll look back on this year in awe of all that you were able to handle for the first time as a brand new nurse.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I walked across the stage at graduation and accepted my first nursing position. The first year seemed so daunting then. But now on the other side I can say I survived it and I think I did a pretty good job doing it.
What an amazing year of growth it has been. People told me the first year would be tough, but honestly it challenged me in ways I never knew it could. There were some beautiful moments and some incredibly difficult ones. I was challenged not only as a professional, but as a human being as well. Being a nurse is so much more than practical skills. It’s empathy, compassion, patience…all characteristics that can be some of the most challenging to demonstrate on a daily basis.
I realized in my first year of practice that balance is key. Finding ways to care for yourself so you can care for others. It’s so easy to burn out as a nurse, believe me I’ve seen how a nurse’s burnout can affect patient care for the worse. That’s why it’s so important to find a balance early on.
For me this meant taking two different jobs. Most people thought I was crazy for working in two different hospitals with very different populations, but honestly it is what keeps me sane. I love my adult oncology patients. I learn so much from them. From their wise wisdom during treatment and from their families when I’m caring for them in their last days. I also love working with kids and their families. There’s something so special about caring for children when they need the extra support and providing education to parents to help them provide care for their child when there child has greater needs due to illness.
I consciously chose to take two very different jobs because I did not want to box myself in, I knew this was the time that would shape me as a nurse the most and I’m so grateful for all the different experiences I’ve gained. I hope that this diverse experience will help to guide me to teach new nurses, a goal I have set for myself in the future, but one I know I’m not ready for yet.
In my first year I’ve worked with many nurses who are willing to foster an environment for learning, who I feel I can ask many questions to and rely on in difficult situations. And unfortunately I can say the opposite as well.
I never want to forget what it felt like to be a new nurse. On my first day by myself. Doing procedures for the first time. Or experiencing a new challenge in my practice. I’ve noticed it becomes so easy to forget what it feels like to be inexperienced, and that is a detriment to our profession.
The first few months I beat myself up when things didn’t go right or I got yelled at by a patient or family member. But throughout the first year I’ve developed this tough skin that I can only say came from experience and realizing that these people are going through some of the hardest times in their lives, so you can’t take anything personally.
My solution is to continuously reflect on my practice and to debrief with my colleagues. I find my walks/bikes home from work are the best time for personal reflection. To transition from work to home. And to realize that some days and some patients are going to affect you more than others. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s impossible to leave work at work when you do what we do. And you need to take the time to have feelings about a tough situation or the loss of a patient who you spent a lot of time with.
So I’ll say it to myself again. Never lose your passion for nursing. When you feel like you are burning out, change jobs. Find a new niche. Do things outside of work that help you take care of yourself so you can take care of others. It’s a beautiful career path you’ve chosen and you’ve got this.