10 Pieces of Advice Every Nursing Grad Needs To Hear
That very first year (or two) of nursing can be some of the most challenging and emotionally taxing years of your nursing career. You are thrust into an environment that is largely foreign — because come on, we all know nursing school is not capable of truly preparing you for the real world!
Right off the bat, you are expected to hold the lives of others in your hands. This is no small undertaking, and it's easy to beat ourselves up for not being the perfect new graduate specimen.
I had a difficult time as a new graduate, especially as my expectations of myself met the realities of the job. This made for very deflated and exhausting days. Looking back, I am so proud of myself for sticking it out and pushing through those tough years. Here’s what I learned during the process and what I try to tell every new graduate who is going through the same thing.
1. Build your support network early
In nursing school, it was easy to vent to our classmates and peers about challenges. But, after graduation, if you don't make it a point to keep in touch with classmates, professors, and mentors, it is easy to lose contact. That's why it is so important to maintain those relationships and build new ones. This support network can offer advice, guidance, and even job leads. So, if you haven't done it already - make sure to get all your classmate's and professor's email addresses. Remember, there's no shame in asking for help - and as long as you ask, there's probably someone who would jump at the chance to help you. We've all been there before!
Side note, if you're not active on Linkedin, you should create a profile right now.
2. Take a strategic approach to getting your first job
Your first job might not be exactly what you had envisioned but, it is definitely a step in the right direction. You will learn so much and lay the ultimate foundation for years to come. Remember, it's not uncommon for nursing graduates to graduate without knowing what to specialize in. However, you DO know yourself and you should only apply for jobs that will mesh well with your personality and lifestyle. Don't settle for a job just because you received an offer.
For example, if you know you don't want to work in pediatrics then, don't apply for those positions. If you don't know what to specialize in, the float pool is a great place to start and you'll have a chance to feel out many different specialties. Do you know that you want to specialize in ICU? Then apply for ICU jobs - yes, new grads do get hired in specialties!
Lastly, connect with your network and build new networks - there are several Facebook groups specifically for new grad nurses!
3. Target your resume and cover letter for every job
You should never submit the same old resume and cover letter to every job - they need to be targeted for that specific position, hospital, specialty, etc. Make sure to take the time to make yourself stand out. Our ultimate resume guide will help you create the best nursing resume and, you'll even get a free template.
4. Prepare for your interviews
Interviews can be nerve-wracking but, they don't have to be! How? Well, preparing for them will help. And, by preparing, I don't mean googling "nursing interview questions" and memorizing the generic responses. There's a lot that goes into interview prep and we teach you everything you need to know in our free interview prep kit. In the kit, we lay out everything you need to know about nursing interviews including,
- What to do before your interview
- Sample interview questions and answers to behavioral-based interview questions
- Dressing appropriately for your interview
- Follow up after the interview
- Handle rejection gracefully
- What to do once you've received an offer
- Salary negotiations
5. When you land your first job, treat yourself with grace
Being a new graduate is like learning to ride a bicycle. A bicycle with thirteen wheels, a drum set, and a crossword puzzle you must do all at the same time. Be patient with yourself and your mistakes. Treat yourself as a friend, and don't put yourself down when you're not as proficient as someone with 10 years of experience.
6. Getting off orientation is not a race
If you are hired with other new graduates, it is common to look at them and feel like you are competing in the race of who can be the best new grad nurse. Who can take care of more patients with higher acuities quicker? Who will be let off orientation the earliest? Unfortunately, your work culture can perpetuate this, especially if managers start making comments that make you feel like you're behind.
Learn to decrease your sensitivity to this scenario. If others get off orientation sooner, fine. If others seem to be having more advanced patients, so be it. YOU must focus on YOUR journey and fill in the gaps YOU need. It's not about winning a race. We all have different speeds and strengths, and, trust me, in time they will shine.
7. Your first job doesn't have to be your 'forever job'
When I began my job as an ICU nurse, I signed a three-year contract that made me feel like I would be tied to the facility forever. I knew I really wanted to go travel nursing, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like. Some days are more difficult than others, but know that the way your life looks now — especially if you're having a hard time — doesn't mean it's going to look this way forever. Things are ever-changing. People come and go. Managers come and go.
If you already know you will be leaving the unit you're on, that day is going to come sooner than you think. Do your best to focus on each day as it comes, and to put your best foot forward as you step across the threshold into your unit.
8. Do something that makes you feel powerful
When I graduated from nursing school and began preceptorship in the Level I Trauma ICU of my hometown, I remember feeling so inadequate and so, so new. I needed something to counterbalance these feelings. So amidst the stress of precepting, I began teaching piano lessons. I had played piano for 10+ years, and teaching elementary school kids was something I enjoyed.
Teaching piano was also an excellent metaphor for what I was going through. I remember playing Für Elise for my little 7-year-old student when her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She couldn't believe that such beautiful and harmonious melodies could come out of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." "How can I do that?!" she asked. "All it takes is practice and time!" Hmmm…you don’t say??
Pick something you enjoy and that you're good at, whether it's skating, basketball, painting, or gardening. But pick it up again and let it remind you that you are capable of getting good at things.
9. Get yourself some self-care days
Self-care culture seems to be at an all-time high right now. Treat yourself, take yourself out, get massages, buy yourself some nice outfits. Get those feel-good endorphins pumping.
10. You are currently building empathy
One day, you will be teaching someone who feels exactly like you do now. Do not let bitter situations make you jaded. Don't let someone else's pain continue through you and onto someone else. Remember how you feel in this moment and give to others what you may be needing right now.
Nurse.org's Popular Articles and Resources
Non-Bedside Nursing Jobs
Looking for a change beyond the bedside? Check out our list of the top non-bedside nursing careers
15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
You know all nursing jobs aren’t created (or paid!) equally, but do you know which nurses are making the most money in 2020?
2022's Best Nursing Schools
We've looked at programs nationwide and determined these are our top schools
10 Best Scrubs for Nurses
120,000+ nurses voted on their favorite scrub brands, find out their top picks.