I learned to swim at a local city pool. The classes organized into levels named after marine animals, starting with Angelfish and ending with Shark. Aside from the nostalgia that comes with '90s swimsuits, sunscreen, and the acrid smell of chlorine; swimming lessons prompted early competitiveness in my childhood mindset. This was one life's first ladders I would doggedly climb, from Angelfish level in the shallows to Otter, to Polar Bear, to Dolphin in the deep end.
Leaving nursing school, for me, felt like conquering the city pool and then stepping into the ocean. Gulp. Nine years later I'm teaching new Dolphins to navigate the waves.
To hone in on the title point, this is a reality many new grads face. Okay, hatred is a bit of hyperbole. We don't hate you. After all, we were you once. We just like working with proficiency and it is our job to help you there, to get you swimming without a floatation device.
We've all heard the old adage that "nurses eat their young." Well, I can't say I disagree, or that it is even wrong in a sense. Don't get me wrong, I am not endorsing abuse or lateral violence of any kind-I am saying that experienced nurses should challenge brand new nurses to get in the game. Nursing is a team sport and experienced nurses succeed because of routines they've sharpened over years and decades. Add that difference in skill level to the uncomfortable eye-rolling brought on by lack of confidence in an arena where someone's life or death is on the line...it is a recipe for unhappiness in nurses responsible for onboarding new grads.
Having been on both sides of this reality-new grad nurse in 2009 and now training new grad nurses-I have come up with five tips to minimize the eye-rolling and engender trust in your veteran colleagues who have forgotten what it was like to be new, clueless, and sometimes downright terrified.
Here are my tips:
1. Leave your phone alone.
I realize of course many of us have obligations like kids, parents, and other dependents that have the potential for emergency. Working in healthcare makes us fear the worst and curses us with the inability to ever have our phone on silent. I get it. However, being new in a high-stakes environment requires you to at least look like you are paying attention.
I agree that we don't always use phones for dating apps or NFL fantasy teams and that legitimate bedside, science-based applications for smartphones exist; but, one must realize that older generations may not innately agree with this. Leaving your phone alone at work as much as humanly possible will help the appearance that you care about your new job, which I am certain is true of course.
But, but, what about the internet?
(I can hear someone out there saying it.)
Most institutions have internet available at desktop workstations with access to other resources you might not get on your phone-like subscriptions to databases such as Medscape or UptoDate-which are often better assets in health systems than broad internet searches. To summarize, again, I understand that life happens, but check your texts and voicemails on breaks. Give your work phone number to your family for emergencies, and really divert your attention to the task of learning and becoming a reliable team member.
2. Embrace your incompetence.
This is something we all need to do on a continuous basis-experts and novices alike. A mentor recently repeated to me that the more you know the more you need to learn. In training, we don't expect new grads to be or feel competent yet, so do not put yourself in a place mentally where you constantly worry about appearing unintelligent. We know you're new. We know it's a process.
Conversely, don't go off the deep end and spend extra time telling your preceptors what you do know. Don't tout your knowledge excess-there is no such thing. Embrace your knowledge deficit. Don't think or say, "Well, I've done X already." X might be performed differently from unit to unit, nurse to nurse. Instead say, "I've done X before, but I don't know how we do it here, can you show me?" Instead say, "I don't know what this medication is, what this diagnosis is, where the Foley catheters are stocked."
Say aloud, "I don't know, teach me."
I tell new grads over and over that there are no stupid questions. Questions aren't stupid, silence is stupid. Take up the plethora of skills you have yet to conquer as an opportunity to show your colleagues and preceptors you recognize your learning curve. It will help your coworkers remember what it was like to be new, and they'll be more likely to guide you-take the time to walk you through that IV start-show you how to document an assessment-which physician to page, and so on. It will motivate you to not only hustle at learning but it will create trust in your fellow nurses that you are committed to being a safe, productive nurse and ultimately a star team member.
3. Use your nurse brain.
I'm talking about that piece of scrap paper that you write down important stuff on. It could be a pre-printed thing; there are lots of notepads and booklets available now. It could be something on a smartphone app, but again, refer to #1. Whatever it is, find a way to organize your shift and outline your tasks and priorities. This will help immensely with time management-which for every new nurse is a difficult thing to master. It takes practice, practice, and more practice, but having it written down in a system that works for you will help you prioritize the 1,245 things you have to get done and charted before handing off to the next shift.
4. Find a mentor.
A mentor is an experienced peer that kicks *** in a way you are in complete awe of. It is a colleague that has shown interest in you and your learning journey. It is a nurse that you want to absorb everything from. It is that preceptor who can seamlessly get from point A to point Z while doing nine other things-fielding phone calls and calming worried family members and managing patient pain and getting that diet coke over ice with a side of graham crackers while simultaneously teaching you, Dolphin, about the components of cardiac output.
I'm sure you have someone in mind.
Find these people, or person, to emulate and seek a lasting professional relationship. And then say hi to them on YouTube/in your online article and thank them for being awesome.
(Hi Mary! You're amazing! Thank you for being an awesome teacher!)
5. Connect with your cohort.
By "cohort," I mean other new nurses like yourself going through the same struggles at the same time whether it is in your new unit, your hospital, former classmates, or online. Find others going through similar stresses and make time to commiserate about it-all the challenges and personal victories.
It could be drinks after work, it could be through text or email, commenting on funny nurse-related Instagram posts, or participating in online forums and blogs such as those on allnurses.com. Connecting with your cohort helps you remember that you're not alone in your quest to becoming a competent nurse.
Hearing from others will help you not reinvent the wheel in regards to the other four tips, like use your brain. Maybe someone out there has a nurse brain that will work for you; or maybe, someone has a story about how they found a mentor; or maybe, there are posts about how new grads feel like complete idiots and how difficult it is to go into work sometimes. Find the communal suffering and recognize what an important time in your career it is. We are all at different stages of growth and we all have room to grow. I certainly don't know everything. I am learning new things all the time from my mentors, from my cohort, from my patients, and most especially from new nurses.
Nursing is a Team Sport
Remember, nursing is a team sport-and believe me, we want you to get in the game with your shiny new RN license. It will just take some time and practice before you get off the bench, but stick with it! It's a marathon, not a sprint.
And what a fantastic journey it is. In the trenches of healthcare you will meet lifelong comrades, learn heart-wrenching lessons, make inappropriate jokes in the break room, and really make a difference in someone's worst, best, first or last days.
Welcome to the ocean Dolphins! Practice these five things and you're going to look like a pro.
*To see these tips explained, check out my video!