No Prior Experience
I had never even been in a hospital before. I was never a CNA. I didn't volunteer as a candy striper. I did not know what it meant to care for other adults. I was only 22 years old. Prior life experience included years of babysitting and working as a hostess. I didn't hear my call to be a nurse until my freshman year in college and was ill-prepared with real-life experience. I had school to focus on and did not think I needed to get my feet wet in the field to understand it. I thought I'd figure it out as I go. That I'd be able to apply everything I was learning quickly in real life. Ha. Ha. Ha. Little did I know.
Deer in the Headlights
My anxiety on the first day of clinicals was over the top. I do not remember being excited; instead, I was full of dread. What was I doing? Who was I kidding thinking I could pull this nurse thing off? I could not even walk into my patient's room to say “good morning." I was literally pacing in front of their door. Back and forth. I was pretending to look yet again at the medication/supply cart parked in front. I went to the bathroom five times. Any distraction to avoid going in. My heart was going to beat right out of my chest.
My instructor caught me pacing. I thought I was going to be in trouble. I felt stupid and ashamed for not being braver. I was preparing to defend my distractions with excuses. But rather than shaming me, she knowingly smiled. Without a word, she linked her arm in mine and walked me into the room. We said “good morning” together. She showed me how to place my hands on my first patient. She was confident yet soft. She listened, and she guided. I was in awe by how easy she made it seem. Her assurance opened the door, literally and figuratively, for me to find my own.
Pay it Forward
My instructor gave me the most powerful gift that day. She held space for me to find comfort and confidence in something so entirely new and unknown. It allowed me to stand a little straighter and hold my head a little higher each time I walked into a patient's room. I was not devoid of anxiety, but I was no longer paralyzed by it.
This day made a lasting impression on my career. I held on to it anytime I precepted a student or new grad, offering the same grace and kindness that she showed to me. I was proud to support and encourage them through all of their doubts and struggles. It was rewarding to watch them grow and feel more confident because of that. It's like giving someone the key to the door that stands in their way. It is an honor, really.
So this I say to you. If you have found yourself questioning what the heck you are doing on your first day of clinicals, remember to stand up a little straighter and hold your head a little higher. Just walk in and say, “Good morning," and the rest will fall into place.
Tips for Reducing First Day Fear
Have your supplies, materials, scrubs, and anything you need for your first shift prepared and ready to go.
Get a good night's sleep the night before.
Eat a well-balanced meal. Don’t drink too much coffee!
Arrive early to get your bearings.
Breathe. Breathe. Keep breathing.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. No one expects you to know what you are doing. In fact, it is usually the opposite. They assume you don’t know much yet. You will be surprised by how many people will be happy to support you.
Carry on, clinical warrior!