10 Ways to Help Support New Nurses

10 Ways to Help Support New Nurses

As if being a nurse wasn’t already hard enough, many new nurses have to endure brusque behavior and cutting criticism from more experienced colleagues once they start their first job. Combined with other factors such as burnout, this lack of support from nursing colleagues helps explain why turnover is so high among new nurses.

But things don’t have to be this way, and more experienced nurses can do a lot to help new nurses feel welcome. If you’re looking to support and mentor new nurses, here are 10 ideas on how to do just that:

1. Remember that you’re a role model.

First and foremost, remember that new nurses are looking to you as an example of how they should behave. Consider what message you’re sending to them with your conduct. Are you kind, collaborative and calm, or are you easily upset and overly critical? Think of the Golden Rule, and treat new nurses the way you would want to be treated if you were in their nursing shoes.

2. Get them up to speed on company culture.

There are lots of rules, often unspoken, that govern work at both the hospital and unit levels. These customs might not immediately be apparent to new nurses, and that’s where you come in. Educate new employees about the cool rules of your team and the broader organization at large to help them avoid gaffes. There’s always a learning curve when anyone joins a new organization, but you can help shorten that curve for young nurses.

3. Help younger nurses network.

Building connections with colleagues is critical for both short-term success in a particular job and your long-term career trajectory. As an experienced nurse who (hopefully) already has a lot of relationships with fellow nurses, physicians, and administrators, one of the best things you can do is take new nurses around and introduce them to everyone you know. This will give younger nurses a huge jumpstart on networking at their new workplace and get rid of the awkwardness of a blind introduction. If you want to go above and beyond, consider introducing new nurses to your connections from other facilities or associations if they have something in common, such as specialties.

4. Give constructive criticism.

New nurses are bound to make mistakes, and as a more experienced leader, it’s your job to point these out and help them learn from their slip-ups. However, don’t use this as an excuse to tear down new nurses, especially in front of others. While this is often a common practice, it’s bad for both individual and team morale, and ripping a nurse for what they did wrong won’t necessarily teach them how to do better in the future—which is kind of the whole point. Instead, identify what they did wrong and offer suggestions for what they should have done differently.

5. Help them identify areas for growth.

Not all learning experiences have to stem from a mistake. As a mentor, you can work proactively to help new nurses determine areas for growth before it becomes an issue. Maybe they should join some more professional associations, or take additional certification workshops or build closer relationships with physicians. You can also ask new nurses for their own ideas of what they need to improve on to make it a more collaborative process.

6. Praise new nurses when they do something right.

That being said, try not to dwell entirely on mistakes or areas for growth. While these are absolutely critical to helping new nurses develop into their full potential, balance constructive criticism with compliments when new nurses do something right. Maybe they handled a difficult patient really well or they have excellent nursing bag technique. Whatever it is, highlight it and let the new nurses know what a good job they’re doing (in front of others, too, when appropriate).

7. Share examples from your own experience.

Abstract advice is great, but concrete examples from your own early days as a nurse are even better. New nurses often feel like they’re the only ones who have made a mistake or not known what to do, even though every nurse experiences this at some point in their careers. If you’re comfortable sharing, think back on some of your own learning experiences from the start of your nursing career and communicate those to new nurses.

8. Deliver on your promises.

Everyone has that one annoying friend who always cancels plans at the last minute, and this sort of behavior is doubly irritating in a more experienced nurse who’s supposed to be acting as a mentor. Don’t make promises to new nurses that you don’t intend to keep, as this will give the impression that they can engage in the same kind of behavior. It’s much better to say “no” up front if you can’t (or don’t want to) participate.

9. Be a trustworthy sounding board.

New nurses face a lot of dilemmas during their first days and months on the job. They’re coping with high levels of stress, they’re prone to burnout and they’re facing significant choices that can impact their careers down the line. Try to build trustworthy relationships so that when new nurses are thinking about finding a new job (or hanging up their scrubs altogether), they feel comfortable coming to you for advice on their dilemma. Of course, part of this trustworthiness is keeping the conversation confidential and not sharing new nurses’ concerns with your colleagues unless they have explicitly given you permission to do so.

10. Stay open to feedback.

Constructive comments are a two-way street, and the best mentors and leaders are open to feedback and suggestions for improvement from their mentees and direct reports. New nurses might not feel like they have the authority to give this to you without an invitation, so actively solicit feedback and ask people for recommendations on what they need from a mentor and what you can do better. You might be surprised at what ideas they have!

As a more experienced nurse, you can positively impact the careers (and lives) of new nurses if you take them under your wing instead of cutting them down. Use one or more of these strategies to support and mentor new nurses and help them start their first jobs on the right foot.

7 Tips for Transitioning into a New Nursing Specialty

7 Tips for Transitioning into a New Nursing Specialty

Even if you plan to spend your entire career in nursing and never take off your scrubs, you probably won’t work for years and years in the same specialty. While it may seem daunting to change your specialty—especially if you’re early in your career and have never done it before—it’s very common and many nurses do it every single year. If you’re contemplating a specialty switch, here are seven strategies to keep in mind as you prepare for the transition:

1. Take time for self-evaluation.

If you’re thinking about changing your nursing specialty, that’s a pretty clear sign that something about it isn’t working. Before you make the leap, take a deep dive and seriously reflect on why you no longer like your current specialty. Have you hit a plateau and grown bored as a result? Did you realize that you’d rather work in pediatrics as opposed to gerontology? Do you need to transition away from a high-intensity unit such as ICU so you can take care of your own family and health? Switching your specialty is no small task, so doing this self-evaluation upfront will help ensure that you make the right decision.

2. Do your research.

Now that you’ve evaluated yourself, it’s time to start evaluating specialties. Read industry publications, news articles, reputable blogs, relevant journals—whatever materials you think might be helpful. If you can, try attending nursing conferences and job fairs in addition to your online research. These events can often be a really efficient way to explore different career options in a short amount of time, and they’re a great chance to meet colleagues and recruiters whom you would never cross paths with otherwise. You never know–that person you sit next to at a conference panel might one day become your new coworker or boss!

3. Get some hands-on experience.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of possible specialties that you are interested in, it’s time to get a real-life taste of them. Ask to shadow nurses in the units that are on your shortlist, just as if you were in nursing school again. While it may feel a little weird to go back to shadowing after you’re already an experienced nurse, you simply can’t get a full picture of what it would be like to work in a specialty from reading articles or talking to people. You actually need to be there in the middle of the action. So put on your scrubs and get shadowing!

4. Network, network, network.

The majority of jobs are found through networking and employee referrals rather than traditional job search methods. Estimates for how many jobs are “hidden” (i.e., never advertised) range from 60% to as high as 80%. But don’t get discouraged over their high numbers. Networking with others in your chosen specialty will increase your chances that a colleague will know of a relevant job opportunity they can refer you to. It’s smart to start the networking process early on, before you’ve even necessarily decided on a specific specialty. Reach out to colleagues, tell them that you’re thinking of making a switch and ask if they would be willing to answer some questions about their work. Once you’ve decided on a specialty and built that networking relationship, then you can let them know what sort of position you’re looking for.

5. Consider further education.

Depending on how drastic of a switch you’re trying to make, you might need to get some additional education to help you successfully recruit for a new nursing specialty. This additional education might be as simple as day-long workshops or certification courses, or it might require more work, such as auditing classes at a local college or even getting an advanced degree such as your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Look up job postings for positions that you would be interested in and see if any additional educational requirements are listed. If you have a more experienced mentor, you can also ask their professional opinion on whether or not you need more education.

6. Time your transition wisely.

Choosing a time to switch specialties is almost as important as choosing a new specialty itself. Transition too early, and you’ll look like you’re a job hopper with commitment issues—but transition too late, and it might be difficult to catch up with younger colleagues (not to mention you might have to take a significant pay cut, too). Generally speaking, the best time to make the switch is after you’ve mastered your original specialty and your growth has plateaued, but not so late that you’ve moved up the ranks and would have to swallow a significant demotion in title and/or compensation. Of course, major personal events such as moving and having a baby are also part of this equation, so don’t forget to account for those, too!

7. Have your application materials ready to go.

Preparing the basics of your application in advance will make it much easier and less stressful to apply when you do hear about a job opening in your new chosen specialty. Make sure your resumé is up-to-date and proofread, and have the basic outline of a cover letter drafted as well. (However, you will need to customize your cover letter for each individual job posting.) You should also have some answers brainstormed out in advance for common questions, including “Why do you want to switch your nursing specialty?” so you’re not scrambling for answers in the middle of an interview.

These seven tips will help you make the transition to a new nursing specialty as smooth as possible. It may seem like a lot of work—and it is—but it’s far from impossible, and many nurses do it successfully each year. Just think of how much more fulfilled you’ll be in your professional life after you make the switch, and best of luck with changing your specialty!

What to Expect During Your First Holiday Season as a Nurse

What to Expect During Your First Holiday Season as a Nurse

Your first year working as a nurse is challenging, and your first holiday season is even more so. Oftentimes, the last thing you want to do is put on your scrubs and drive into work while your friends and family are celebrating without you. Unfortunately, every nurse has to work some holidays—it’s just part of the job. Here are eight tips to help you cope successfully with your first holiday season as a nurse.

Get ready to work at least some holidays.

Different facilities run their schedules differently, but one thing is for sure: You’re going to have to work at least some holidays throughout the year. At some hospitals, if you normally work that day of the week, then you work the holiday–period (unless you find someone gracious enough to swap shifts with you, of course). Other facilities pair holidays together—Thanksgiving with July 4, Memorial Day with Christmas, etc.—and you work one day and get the other off, alternating year over year. However, almost no nurse gets all the holidays off each year, so mentally prepare yourself to work on at least some of these days.

If you want to make swaps, do them in advance.

No one likes that coworker who tries to swap a holiday shift only days in advance, so don’t be that person! If you really want a particular holiday off, look into your facility’s shift-swapping protocol and reach out to your coworkers well in advance. It’s a big ask to request that someone else works on a holiday, so you might have to be willing to work a different special day. For example, you take their Thanksgiving shift while they pick up your Christmas one. And of course, it never hurts to sweeten the deal with some Christmas cookies while you’re at it.

Plan your schedule wisely.

Some nurses figure that if they have to work on a holiday, they might as well do three 12-hour shifts back-to-back and get their week over with. While this may sound tempting, be honest with yourself if this is something you can and want to do. Nursing is a tough profession emotionally and physically, and it can be even more so over the holidays–especially if you’re away from your family. If working three consecutive twelves is going to compromise your nursing work, or simply make you exhausted and sad, try to leave yourself some downtime in between shifts so you can spend time with friends and family. Take care of yourself, even if you can’t celebrate the day of the holiday.

Know how to get in touch with senior leadership.

Senior leaders often take or get off the holidays, so they won’t always be around to assist you in case of an emergency. Ask your supervisor what the protocol is for contacting out-of-office leadership in case a situation does arise. Make sure you know who will be quickly accessible and keep their contact info in an easy-to-reach place, such as your nursing bag, at all times. Hopefully nothing will happen, but staff is often spread a bit thin over the holidays and you want to be prepared ahead of time.

Ask others for help and minimize your commitments.

If you already have a holiday routine, it can be difficult to make the adjustment during your first holiday season as a nurse, especially if you’re usually the one doing all the work: cooking the big festive meals, gift shopping on other people’s behalf, hosting the annual holiday party, etc. But trying to do all that during your first year as a nurse will only make you tired and prone to burnout. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family members for help or to back out of your usual activities. Be upfront about the demands of your nursing career, and give people plenty of heads up on what you can and can’t do. Of course, this isn’t to say you have to completely give up on everything. You can still make a side dish to bring to the party (for example), rather than hosting the entire thing.

Be prepared that your family might not understand.

Non-nurses don’t always understand the rigors of the work schedule, and this is especially true for those who work a regular 9-to-5 job and get holidays off. As soon as you know your holiday schedule (which should be pretty far in advance), communicate it to your family, explain why you won’t be able to join them the day of and offer to coordinate an alternative celebration either before or after the holiday itself. If they give you pushback, explain that everyone in your unit has to work some holidays each year without exception. More senior nurses will have gone through this routine many times, so don’t be afraid to turn to them for advice and encouragement on this matter.

Focus on the incentives.

Almost no one wants to work on a holiday, but the situation isn’t all negative. Many facilities provide overtime pay for working on a holiday, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they may offer other perks (such as a free meal in the cafeteria) as well. Put that extra money to good use by scheduling a fun activity after your holiday shift, such as a massage or art class, so you have something to look forward to and a way to reward yourself for all your hard work.

Don’t forget other people are missing the holidays, too.

Obviously, being away from friends and family during the holidays can be tough, but you’re not the only one. Up to a quarter of all Americans are required to work at least one winter holiday.  Many other hospital staff, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, restaurant workers, and retail workers will put on their scrubs or uniforms and clock into work over the holidays. (And of course, your patients are missing the holidays as well and they’re sick and in the hospital on top of that.) If nothing else, remember that you’re not alone and that you’re helping other people—and possibly even saving lives—in the process.

Your first holiday season as a nurse may not be fun, but you can make it a lot less painful by preparing ahead of time. Follow these eight must-know tips to successfully weather the holidays as a working nurse for the first time.

7 Ways for Hospital Employees to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

7 Ways for Hospital Employees to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

While anyone who works long hours at a high-stress job is vulnerable to burnout, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals are at an especially high risk of experiencing this phenomenon, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

After all, hospital employees often work 12-plus-hour shifts—and residents sometimes put in more than 28 hours straight. And in many cases, they’re treating patients who are in serious pain or whose well-being or lives are in grave jeopardy. Indeed, it’s no wonder that 70% of nurses are experiencing burnout in their current position, while more than half of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout. Even if they don’t experience complete burnout, many hospital employees experience negative emotions such as stress and anxiety on a regular basis, which can affect both their work and personal lives.

However, there are steps that medical professionals can take to reduce feelings of burnout, stress, and anxiety if they work in a high-stress hospital environment. Here are seven different ways facilities around the country are trying to help their employees de-stress, whether they’re on the job or off the clock.

1. Group Activities and Classes

Hospitals frequently host or subsidize group activities that encourage creativity, social time, and stress relief. Popular class ideas include dance, pottery, painting, knitting, and group journaling exercises. Other group activities focus more on fitness and nutrition, such as educational sessions on eating a healthy diet or coordinating group fitness classes like yoga or aerobics. While engaging in these activities on your own can reduce stress and give you a mental break from work, doing them with coworkers creates the additional physical and mental benefits of socialization.

2. Facility or Department Events

Many companies host employee appreciation events to celebrate their workers, and hospitals are no different. Department lunches, holiday parties, and award ceremonies give employees a chance to hang up their stethoscopes and socialize without the pressures of work. If their facilities don’t host such happenings regularly, hospital employees can still coordinate their own low-key events, such as cookouts, potlucks, and game nights. Even if it’s just a couple people getting together for a casual lunch, it’s still a good opportunity to de-stress with coworkers who understand the unique demands of the job.

3. Havens of Relaxation

More and more hospitals are going beyond your average break room to create calming havens for employees to relax in during breaks. Sometimes called “serenity rooms,” these areas incorporate soothing features such as dimmer lights, soft colors, comfortable chairs, relaxing music, pleasing artwork, and beverages or snacks. Such rooms give doctors and nurses a chance to take a break from patients and families to clear their minds and release some of the stress and anxiety they’ve internalized during their shift.

4. “All-Natural” Stress Relief

Hospitals and employees often turn to Mother Nature to help them de-stress while in the middle of a shift. Many of the “serenity rooms” mentioned above use indoor plants to create a welcoming space full of life or incorporate water features to provide pleasant, soothing background noise while employees relax. Other facilities have created small outdoor gardens where staff can step out and get away from the chaos of the hospital for a few minutes. And if the facility is lucky enough to be located near beautiful natural surroundings, whether that’s lush forests or towering mountains, some employees find that just looking out the window is enough to give them a quick mental break and remind them of a world beyond the hospital walls.

5. Massages, Meditation, and More

Many businesses have begun offering free or low-cost massages to employees to help them de-stress, and no one needs it more than hospital employees. Some hospitals offer massages regularly, on a weekly or monthly basis, and even just 15 minutes of massage can help employees relax and return to work refreshed without having to change out of their scrubs. Other hospitals teach classes on meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques that doctors and nurses can draw from in a stressful moment when massages aren’t an option.

6. Expert Advice

Medical professionals may experience trauma while on the job, such as when a patient dies. Staff who work in certain departments, such as the emergency room or neonatal intensive care, are exposed to even more of these profoundly affecting incidents. Hospitals may call in chaplains to talk about the stress and provide emotional support to their employees, and some doctors and nurses also benefit from talking to peers who have experienced similar situations. In certain cases, some medical professionals find it very helpful to talk to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist about mental health issues directly resulting from work, such as PTSD among nurses.

7. Fewer Extended Shifts

Working extended shifts can negatively impact the well-being of doctors and nurses, in turn leading to more employee turnover—and less desirable patient care. For example, nursing shifts commonly last 12 hours and frequently go over that limit due to patient needs and staff fluctuations. Hospitals looking to reduce anxiety, stress, and employee turnover should work to create a culture where employees don’t feel pressured to stay for “voluntary” overtime or to pick up extra shifts. After all, when hospital shifts are shorter, the rates of burnout remain lower as well. Respecting days off and vacation time so medical professionals truly get a break are also critical for helping them rest up and come back to work refreshed.

There’s no denying that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals experience high levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout, especially if they work in a hospital. Thankfully, facilities around the country are taking more steps every day to help promote the well-being of their employees. If you work at a hospital that hasn’t tried any of these stress-relief initiatives yet, see if you can start one or independently host an event for your coworkers.

How to Balance Nursing School and Family Life

How to Balance Nursing School and Family Life

Are you thinking about going to nursing school and already have a family at home to take care of? While balancing nursing school with a family can be a big commitment, it’s definitely doable, and many nurses going to school later in life already have a family, often including multiple kids. If you have a family and are thinking about going to nursing school—or are already enrolled—here are eight tips for balancing it all and staying sane.

1. Talk about the changes with your family.

Before you start school or run out to purchase your scrubs, discuss all the coming changes with both your partner and the kids so everyone knows what is going on. If your partner is going to take on new responsibilities once you start school—such as picking up and dropping off the kids at daycare or taking them to doctor’s appointments—clarify expectations beforehand and work out a plan. Then let your kids know that you’re going to nursing school, and explain that everyone’s schedule is going to change as a result. If they’re younger, they may take time to adjust to the new routine, so be patient with them.

2. Create a master calendar.

Some people like to keep their work or school and personal calendars separate, but it will be a huge help for you and your partner if you consolidate everything into one master calendar. At the very least, the calendar should feature major events such as exams, recitals, and doctor’s appointments, and if you’d like you can get more granular and add your class schedule as well. And don’t forget to bring your partner on board and invite them to contribute to the calendar: They can add work trips and other major events from their schedule so you’ll have all the family commitments in one place.

3. Figure out your peak study periods.

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Would you rather get up at 4 a.m. and do your studying early before anyone else wakes up, or do you like to stay up late and crack the books after the kids have gone to bed? There’s no right or wrong answer, but your studying will be more efficient and you’ll retain more material if you work with rather than against your circadian rhythm. You probably already have an idea of when your most productive periods are during the day, so try to get homework done during those times whenever you can.

4. Make the most of nap time.

If you have little kids, you know the blissful quiet that (finally!) descends on the house when nap time comes around. While you may be tempted to take a nap yourself after running around after little ones all day, use this time to check some things off your to-do list: Finish that assignment, study for that exam, take care of that chore. After all, the more you get done during nap time, the less you have to get done either super early or very late in the day, when you’re less alert.

5. Determine what you’re willing to sacrifice.

You’re not a superhero. You’re only human, and you can’t do everything on top of managing your family and getting through nursing school. Before school starts, take stock of all the activities in your life and determine what you must keep and what can go. For example, you might not be able to spend as much time with extended family as you used to, or you might have to give up a time-consuming hobby such as knitting. At the same time, make sure you leave some time to take care of yourself: Maybe you give up the knitting projects, but you can continue to make time for your daily workout.

6. Schedule family and couple time each month.

Wrangling a family is difficult enough without adding nursing school to the mix. Despite the schedule chaos, do your best to block off at least one day or night a month for family time. Visit the zoo, host an at-home move night, or go out to a park together. And don’t neglect your love life either: If you’ve got a partner, aim to schedule one date a month if you can. Put away the books and stethoscope, get a babysitter, and enjoy some well-deserved time away from the kids, just the two of you.

7. Find a support system.

There’s a good chance there are other parents in your nursing program, so seek them out and make friends. They’ll understand the challenges you’re going through, and you can swap tips and babysitter recommendations. Of course, everyone in the nursing program is going through the same experience, but fellow parents will be able to sympathize with cramming during nap time and other strategies only moms and dads can understand. You may even become study buddies, as fellow parents will probably keep a schedule closer to yours, which makes it easier to find mutually available times to study together.

8. Consider a part-time program.

If going to nursing school full time isn’t feasible because of your family situation, don’t be discouraged—there are plenty of part-time nursing programs out there. Check to see if there are any part-time programs in your area; these programs will be spread over more months, but they’ll require less time of you each week. You can also look into online nursing programs, some of which provide on-demand video classes, let your work at your own pace, or otherwise offer a more flexible schedule to accommodate the demands of parenting.

There’s no denying that nursing school is challenging on its own, and having a family adds an extra layer of complexity. However, with hard work, planning, and prioritization, plenty of parents get their nursing degree each year and launch fulfilling careers in nursing. Follow these eight tips to balance your family life with nursing school.

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