Experts Share 6 Insights You Need to Read Before Starting Your First Nursing Job

female nurse sitting at table talking to other nurses

The time has arrived. You’ve earned your Nursing degree, you’ve obtained your scrubs and your first day on the job is quickly approaching. Now that you’ve conquered all those classes, practiced with patients and passed all those exams, it’s time to begin your career. But starting your first nursing job can certainly feel a little overwhelming.

Now that the journey of nursing school has come to a close, it’s time to start doing what you love: helping people. It’s normal to feel nervous before transitioning into a new job, and it’s important to remember that despite first-day nerves, you’ll get through that first shift.

There are many who have gone before you, so rest assured that you’re not alone. We connected with nurses who’ve been in your shoes, as well as other professionals who have experience in the world of nursing. They’re sharing their advice on how to survive starting your first nursing job.  

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6 insights to read before starting your first nursing job

1. Take comfort in your prior experience

“You made it through classes, clinicals, the late night study sessions and the dreadful nursing boards,” says Anitra Green, RN, MSN, MBA, and LNC. “Nursing, in my opinion, is in a league of its own, and if you could get through the above mentioned, you can handle just about anything.”

There’s something to be said for all the time you invested working to earn your degree. Not only did all that schooling help you acquire the knowledge you need to do your job well, but it also gave you something invaluable—a sense of perseverance. All the determination, steadfastness and grit it took to get through those classes counts for something, and it’ll help carry you through the tough parts of the job.

“Just because it’s your first day does not mean you are new to nursing,” says Troy Diffenderfer of Travel Nurse Source. “You went through a rigorous schooling program and you are now a trained professional, so be confident.”

2. Cover your bases and be prepared

Just like with any job, your first nursing job comes with key requirements for employees: certain uniforms, specific policies to follow and other basics to be aware of. Being prepared not only shows your employer that you’re responsible, but it shows that you think ahead and that they can depend on you.

“There’s nothing worse than being late or underprepared at your first day of work,” Diffenderfer says. “Make sure all your paperwork is properly attended to and even call ahead to make sure you buy the correct color scrubs.”

Mornings can feel stressful and rushed, so make sure to pack all the essentials the night before—or even a few nights before if you’re feeling antsy. You can never be too prepared, and getting some of the small things out of the way can help you get a better night’s sleep.

3. There’s a lot to learn, so embrace it

“Be eager and ready to learn,” suggests Cara Noren, an RN at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “You have learned so much in school, and you will need that, but the real world doesn’t always operate in a textbook fashion.”

There’s always a learning curve when you start a new job, and each hospital is different. Experience is the best teacher, so give yourself a bit of time and space to adjust to the new policies and procedures, learn the ropes and connect with other nurses. Before you know it, your new job will start feeling familiar.

4. Stay open-minded

“Come in open-minded and ready to learn from veteran nurses,” Noren says. “Not only will you learn a great deal, but you will also gain their respect.” Connecting with the other nurses on your team is key, and they’ll appreciate someone who’s willing to learn from their expertise.

Learning the science of nursing comes with a lot of charts, guidelines and systems. But there are some things that just happen in the nursing world, and you have to learn to roll with the punches and expect the unexpected. Staying open-minded and humble is key when you start a new job. You’re there to learn and grow, so real-life situations might end up a bit messier than you expect—and when they do, you’ll be grateful for veteran nurses who can help you to stay flexible.

5. It’s okay to ask questions

You might assume that asking a question during your first few weeks as a new nurse might make you sound foolish or incompetent, but this is not the case. Your coworkers would much rather have you up to speed and mistake-free in the future. While it might be a bit humbling to ask questions, the patients you are caring for are worth it. The questions you ask might make a serious difference in the outcome of their care.

“No matter how long you’ve been a practicing nurse, you should always be willing to ask questions,” Diffenderfer says. “Even the most senior healthcare providers still ask questions, so don’t be afraid to learn.” So if you come across a situation in which you are unsure of how to proceed, our nursing experts agree that it’s best to swallow your pride and ask for help.

6. Remember why you decided to become a nurse

When the going gets tough and the job feels hard, it’s important to return to your original desire in becoming a nurse: helping people and saving lives. All that work you’re about to take on is going to make an incredible difference in so many lives. You have a specialized skillset that can help save people from dying—that’s an incredible difference you’re making in the world.

Take some time and write down a personal mission statement for why you decided to become a nurse. Whenever you feel like throwing in the towel, return to your statement and keep remembering your “why.” Before you know it, you will have a handful of rewarding experiences to look back on and remind you why it’s all worth it.

Embrace this new adventure

You’re on the brink of entering a new and exciting world with your first nursing job. You have a lot to be proud of, and there’s a lot more on the horizon that you can enjoy.

Use this advice to help you navigate those beginning stages of your new career. Before you know it, you’ll no longer be the new guy or gal, and you’ll be looking for ways to step up even more. When that time comes, get more expert insight in our article, “Nursing Career Advancement: 7 Ways to Stand Out in Your Scrubs.”


About the author

Lauren Elrick

Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals

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