So you’ve graduated from nursing school, passed the NCLEX, and gotten your first nursing job. All the hard work is done, right? …Not quite. While the path to becoming a practicing nurse may not be the easiest, the reality is that the work is just beginning. Your first year of being a nurse will most likely be incredibly difficult. You are going to struggle as you learn the vast number of skills that it takes to be a nurse in your specialty area. Here are a few tips to help you survive and thrive during your first year as a nurse:

1. Ask questions.

One of the best ways to learn as a new nurse is to ask lots of questions. A lot of people might be afraid to ask questions because then they have to admit that they don’t know something. This is a natural feeling, but remember that you are not expected to know everything. Having the courage to speak up will help you be a more knowledgeable nurse. If you’re not able to ask questions in the moment, try making a list of all of your questions. Then when you have down time later, you can ask your questions.

2. Get to know your coworkers.

During your first few weeks as a new nurse, take some time to get to know your coworkers. Remember their names and say hello to them in the halls. Eventually, over time, you will be able to develop relationships and create a network of people you know and trust. This is not only important for your job satisfaction, but also for your survival as a nurse. Your fellow nurses are the ones who will be there to support you during difficult days, laugh with you after funny situations, and help you in emergencies.

3. Take time to relax.

When you get a day off from work, make the most of it! Don’t think about work, your patients, or your charting. Take time to relax and de-stress. If your mind is constantly thinking of work, then you may be at risk of burning out. Try to find an activity that gets your mind off of work like hiking, hanging out with friends, or reading.

4. Learn how to prioritize.

It is very easy to become overwhelmed as a new nurse. You may have several different patients to care for, or one high acuity patient. Either way, you will have a multitude of tasks to complete during your shift, some planned and some unexpected. Try breaking down your day into hourly increments of time. Within that hour, ask yourself, “What is the most important task I need to accomplish and what is the least important task?” With this method, you will not only be able to organize your tasks, but you will also be able to react appropriately when something unexpected happens.

5. Set realistic goals.

Being a new nurse is extremely difficult. Give yourself time to struggle and learn the ins and outs of nursing. You won’t be a super star on your first day. In fact, it could take you years to truly feel like an expert in your nursing field. With that in mind, set small and realistic goals. By setting goals that are easily achievable, you will build your confidence. Try setting a goal to learn something new every day. This will help you feel successful after learning a new task or fact, rather than feeling defeated and beating yourself up for not knowing something.

6. Stay positive.

Some days are going to be more difficult than others. On these days, remember to stay positive. Every nurse has bad days, even an experienced nurse. If you are having trouble staying positive, try making a list of the things that went well during your day, rather than focusing on the negatives. Your first year as a nurse will fly by, and before you know it, you’ll begin to feel more confident and on your way to becoming an expert nurse.

Sarah Cruzan, BSN, RN

Sarah Cruzan is a nurse on a Family Maternity Unit.

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