Being Mentally Prepared as a New Nurse

There have recently been a swarm of articles published that portray the nursing profession in a negative light, especially for new graduates entering the field. These articles talk about long hours, tough patients, and management that does not care about the staff and only cares about the bottom line. These claims are often true in many locations and many new nurses decide to leave their first job in search of another or they leave the profession all together. This is unfortunate. A newly graduated nurse needs guidance and mental preparation. They need a chance to “wrap their head” around what is to come. Mental preparation is the key.

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There are high patient to RN levels at most hospitals. Hospitals are a business no matter which way you look at it and their goal is to be profitable. They are going to spend the least amount of money on staff and try to squeeze in as many patients as possible so that they can bill the insurance companies as much as possible. This is unlikely to change at for profit hospitals and probably not at the not for profit hospitals, so it is something a new nurse will need to learn to accept.

High patient to RN ratios create a time management problem and in turn, high stress levels. To mentally prepare for this scenario is critical for a new nurse. If the new nurse has poor time management or multitasking skills, they can work to improve theses skills. This should not be a reason for a new nurse to feel like they are failing at their job. Every nurse has had the same feelings of being overwhelmed and they learn what they need to do to manage this feeling by doing and watching the more experienced nurses work.

Classroom and book study, though it does what it is supposed to do, cannot prepare a new nurse for the “real world” patient presentations or frequency of patient presentations seen on a daily basis. There will be multiple patients presenting with multiple symptoms that make no sense. There is not always an experienced nurse there to hold a new nurse’s hand, but listening, asking and watching other more experienced nurses is how a new nurse learns. This is how a new nurse learns to manage their time, difficult patients, and those patient’s families. This is nursing and this is how a new nurse learns to do their job and how a new nurse becomes a great nurse.

Beginning any new job is overwhelming. There is always a learning curve. In nursing it is a steep curve. New nurses who have been prepared mentally for what to expect in the first year of nursing do far better than those that have not. Nursing can be a wonderful and rewarding profession. A new nurse needs to be mentally ready for the life change that they will experience moving from school to work.

What Can A New Nurse Do to Mentally Prepare?

A new nurse may want to consider the size of the hospital and if the hospital is a for profit or not for profit. Large hospitals and for profit hospitals have been known to have higher patient to RN ratios and thus be more demanding of their RNs. One of the best pieces of advice is to speak to RNs working in the department where a new nurse would be working to learn more about the management, patient to RN ratios, and whether or not there are experienced nurses on the floor that are able to help the new nurse out.

With the economy and job market being the way they are, there may only be one employment option for a new nurse. In this case, speak with the hiring manager and the nurses already working there. Learn what their experience there was like for the first 6 months on the job and what it was like after a year on the job. These proactive strategies can help a new nurse mentally prepare for their new position.

As with any job, building a solid network of colleagues is critical to success. Having a support system of nurses with all levels of experience allows new nurses to share their accomplishments as well as their frustrations. A new nurse will struggle trying to do it all on their own.

Hang in there. New nurses are indeed needed. As with life, when times seem unbearable, know that that those times will pass and it will get better.

Becky, RN, BSN Reno, NV, Nurse of 16 years