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July 18, 2022

5 Tips To Get The Most Out of Orientation as a New Grad Nurse

5 Tips To Get The Most Out of Orientation as a New Grad Nurse

As a new nurse, I was absolutely terrified to start working “for real” on the floor. I was fresh out of college, 22 years old, and had a six-week-old newborn at home, so not working was not an option for me—I had to succeed as a nurse and that #nightshiftlife was beckoning me. 

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be trained by great preceptors in all of the different units when I worked the floor as a nurse. I trained in PCU, a transitional care unit, and ended my floor nurse career in labor and delivery and every time, I learned from the best. It makes a huge difference who you train with as a nurse, but your success as a new grad also depends on how you approach your mentorship and training. 

Here are a few tips that can help you get the most out of orientation as a preceptee. 

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1. Ask for practical steps

One of the most helpful things I found as a new nurse was to carefully study—and even take notes—on the ways that the more experienced nurses performed practical tasks. My BSN training had prepared me for a lot of “big picture” aspects of the nursing profession, but I found that some of the more hands-on tasks took up a lot of my mental and physical energy in the early days. 

So I was not shy about asking my preceptor how she did everything, from what she carried in her pockets to how she wrote down notes if she couldn’t get to the computer to the steps she took when changing bed linens. One of the best tips I ever received from a nurse was on her step-by-step process for untangling IV lines. That sounds like a little thing until you have a situation where 10 different drips are running and your ambulatory patient has to go to the bathroom. 

2. Study different nursing techniques

I found that each and every nurse does things a little bit differently, so by studying even the smallest of tasks, I could pick and choose the methods that worked for me. For instance, every nurse will start an IV differently, insert a catheter differently, or ambulate a patient differently. (Within reason of course, because those sterile techniques don’t waver!)

The point is, you can learn different tips and tricks from different nurses and combine them or pick and choose what works best for you. So definitely learn your preceptor’s method, but don’t be afraid to ask other nurses for their techniques too.

3. Do everything you can while you’re still on orientation

Listen, there is no magic line that exists that will take you from orientation to being a Nurse Who Knows Everything. You will always be learning new things as a nurse (that’s one of the reasons to love nursing, right?). However, orientation is a great opportunity to try new things while you have someone dedicated to helping you learn and succeed at accomplishing that task. 

So, if there are specific things you know you’re nervous about doing, be sure to let your preceptor know so they can help you seek out experiences. Additionally, be vocal to all of the staff on the floor that you’re looking to experience as much as possible—nurses are generally great at remembering to drag you into a room when something unusual or helpful to your training happens.

If there’s something you’re afraid of doing, force yourself to do as much as possible during orientation because I promise putting it off will not help you in the long run. (I’m looking at all you nurses quaking in fear to give report and call the doc at 2 AM, because, same.)

4. Make their life easier if possible

Being a preceptor is not an easy task. Oftentimes, it’s an added burden onto already time-strapped, overworked nurses. We all know that. But a good preceptor will not make you feel like a burden and should recognize the value in training up the next generation of nurses. That being said, however, it doesn’t always make getting through a busy shift any easier. 

So as much as possible, make your preceptor’s life easier so they can, in turn, help you get the most out of your orientation. Maybe you could pick up their favorite coffee on the way into work, get your patients water and blankets before report, or take vitals before they ask. It will take time to get into a routine together, but whenever possible, be eager and willing to help your preceptor so they can, in return, help you.

5. Don’t be afraid to seek out other learning opportunities

This one is a tough one, but it must be said: just because you’re assigned to a preceptor doesn’t necessarily mean that you two will be a perfect match. Preceptors who aren’t a good fit for you will exist and that doesn’t have to be a failure on either of your parts. Instead, you might need to be proactive and seek out a different arrangement that will meet your needs better. 

If your preceptor is truly not a good fit—or is not doing their own job in the relationship—don’t be afraid to seek out other learning opportunities. Talk to your unit’s manager and if they will not help, talk to your facility’s union representative if possible. You should not feel shamed or be punished for seeking out ways to ensure that you are prepared to deliver the best possible patient care. 

When it comes to being a nurse, sometimes, one of the best lessons you can learn early on is knowing when to ask for help, because that’s something you will need to do over and over again during your career. It’s part of being a good nurse and the learning never ends, so empower yourself to take action if you need additional help during your preceptorship.

Other tips

Meaghan Saelens, 27, a recent grad who just completed her first year as a nurse, also offers these tips for preceptees:

  • As a preceptee, try not to get overloaded and overwhelmed by all the information.
  • Keep a booklet of notes to reference.
  • Write down questions at the end of the day that you need to be answered, so you can have them answered the next day
  • Take it day by day. 
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