You’ve jumped through all the hoops. You’ve learned the anatomy, made it through your clinicals, and passed your NCLEX exam. Your parents may have gifted you cute embroidered scrubs, and your classmates are posting pictures of everyone looking great in their caps and gowns. You’ve even landed a wonderful first job and feel ready to get started in your new career.
Though you’ve finished your formal studies, you may still be nervous about getting into the field and being great at what you do. This is a normal feeling that many new graduates face as they enter the workforce.
This article sort of “zooms out” on the field to give you generalized tips for starting out strong, regardless of your work setting. Some of these tips are personal attributes, while others are more skill related. Remember to be gentle with yourself as you embark on your journey, and don’t forget that you will continue to grow throughout your career.
In general, great nurses:
1. Communicate Effectively
Communication is crucial in a healthcare setting. Nurses work on a multi-disciplinary team and need to have the communicative skills to be able to advocate for their patients and to effectively transfer information from one specialty to another. Additionally, nurses also need to be able to have clear, calm interactions with patients and their loved ones.
Nurses also have to consider written communication (in terms of documentation), and it’s important to recognize that the electronic medical record may be the main source of information for most of the staff members working with the patient.
2. Are Eager to Grow
Working in healthcare means making the commitment to grow and learn throughout your career. Think about it: if a doctor who graduated 30 years ago refused to follow any recent research or new innovations within his or her field, this could be detrimental to the patient. Services that are now available would not be provided, and evidenced-based information would be left to the wind.
Therefore, it is crucial for individuals working in healthcare continue their education, whether they do so in a formal or an informal sense. This can mean taking CEU classes, attending seminars, engaging in a graduate program, reading new information online, or even just networking with other colleagues.
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3. Demonstrate Empathy and Compassion
It goes without saying that most patients want to be taken care of by a nurse who is compassionate and able to display empathy. These traits are often some of the core individual values that draw a nurse to the field in the first place, but they can also burn out over time. Be sure to focus on your own self-care and restoration so that you can continue to be there for your patients. Try to avoid passing judgment on your patients, and keep an open mind as you encounter people from all walks of life.
4. Engage in Critical Thinking
It’s one thing to memorize the information you need to know to be a nurse, but applying this information in a clinical setting is a whole different ball game. This is where critical thinking skills come in. You’ll have to be able to analyze situations in a calm, collected manner and be able to make decisions quickly based off of the knowledge you already have. While this may sound intimidating, you’ll likely have opportunities to hone your critical thinking skills throughout our career. You may also benefit from finding a more experienced nurse mentor to help you work through challenging situations.
5. Stay Organized
Nurses have to keep up with a lot of information. They’ve got to ensure they administer the right medications to the right patients at the right times, and then they need to document this correctly. On top of that, they may also have a patient in room 1 who needs help eating lunch, a patient in room 5 with an angry family member, and a patient in room 8 who is not looking her best. This requires top-notch organizational skills to ensure you are keeping everything straight and fulfilling all of your responsibilities.
6. Build Resiliency
Working in a healthcare setting can be challenging in any role, but frontline nurses often experience the brunt of enduring difficult losses and upsetting diagnoses. Individuals who have compassion and empathy are naturally going to be affected by these types of events. Grounding techniques and taking time to implement self-care strategies can help reduce the risk of burn-out and also promote resiliency over time.
7. Work as a Team
Patients are cared for across a team of medical professionals, and they all play important roles within the system. A great nurse recognizes that many professionals contribute to a patient’s healing. Strong nurses show respect for everyone around them, whether the individual is a doctor, a nursing assistant, a therapist, or an environmental services employee. Great nurses recognize the important contributions of each member of the team and try to communicate well and help their team members as much as possible.
8. Demonstrate Flexibility
We can try our best to plan for the worst, but at the end of the day, healthcare situations do not always follow a linear line. You may be floated to another floor unexpectedly. Your patient who has been calm all night might become agitated and upset. Your most stable patient could take a turn for the worst. These types of changes will happen a lot (especially in a hospital setting), and you’ve got to be able to adapt quickly so that you can do your best for your patients.
9. Have a Strong Work Ethic
Some components of the nursing role are very structured, while others provide more discretion. For example, nurses are required to administer medications with the correct dosage, but they have the independence of deciding which patient needs to be seen next. Having a strong work ethic means that you are responsible for completing your tasks and following through with all of your job responsibilities. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever chat with your nurse friend on the unit—just be sure you maintain that your patients are your priority.