14 Things You Need to Know as a New Nurse

Written by Peter Jones

So you’ve made it. You want to be a nurse and now you’re ready to begin your nursing career. Here are 14 tips from actual nurses, things they wish they’d known back when they first were starting out, that can help set you on a steeper learning curve as a new nurse.

1. Your schedule is different on paper vs. in real life

Your schedule might look totally doable—a manageable series of shifts (most hospitals would say 3 shifts of 12 hours each). But when you factor in changeover duties, exchanging important patient information before and after each work day, and your commute? Those days are easily 15 hours. And those four days off per week? Forget it. Be ready for the 5 a.m. phone calls begging you to pinch hit when you’re understaffed. Best be prepared for more hours than your schedule would suggest on paper.

2. Your duties expand far and wide

The definition of “nursing,” as it turns out, has a lot more to it than just the medical care you were trained to give. Expect also to have to perform the tasks of waitress, housekeeper, advocate, crusader, IT person, mediator, electrician, errand runner, and counselor. The more your realize how much outside stuff will factor into your ability to get your actual job done, the better a nurse you’ll be.

3. Your memory game must be on point

If you don’t have an outstanding memory, you’d better come up with a mnemonic system to keep things better in your head, or at least be extremely organized and know where you’ve recorded the details you really can’t forget. You’ll be expected to know without hesitation details about your patient, their disease profile, the technology you’ll need to wield, medication interactions, etc. Often as a matter of life and death.

4. Your mistakes will be plentiful

It would be naïve to think that you won’t make them. You will. Everyone does. The first one will feel awful, and you’ll probably cry, but you’ll be very unlikely ever to make it again. Do your best to learn from your mistakes. They’ll make you a much better nurse. And take extra care with medications—they’re the easiest thing to mess up!

5. You will learn how to handle the most difficult thing

Nursing school, no matter how much you think it has, cannot prepare you to witness your first, second, or two hundredth death. You will see hundreds and they will not get easier. Each will be different and tragic in their own way.

6. You will develop a sick sense of humor

If you don’t have one already, you will soon. You and your coworkers will find yourselves making jokes you’d never even realize were joke-worthy before you became a nurse. Just go with it. This is how we keep each other sane.

7. You will be attached to the phone

You’ll be dealing with patients a great deal. You’ll be expected to be graceful under fire. But you’ll also spend an ungodly amount of time, tedious time, on the telephone. Other departments, doctors, pharmacies, insurance companies, supply companies, etc. Train yourself to have excellent phone demeanor and you’ll go far.

8. Your body will take a beating

It will hurt you. After almost every shift. And as you grow older and more seasoned in your career, it will only hurt more. You’re standing, walking, lifting patients and equipment. It takes a toll. Take good care of yourself. Stretch. Learn to optimize your body mechanics—standing, sitting, bending, lifting. Wear compression stockings and good, supportive shoes.

9. Your friends and family become bonus patients

You’re never going to be off the clock. Not as long as your friends and family have cell phones and cameras and can send you their complaints and health questions. Just get used to it. You’ll have a hard time turning loved ones away when you or your colleagues might be of help.

10. Your pay is not as high as it should be

It will never be enough for the amount of work you’re expected to do just to perform your base duties. But there are always opportunities for you to pick up extra shifts and overtime. If you can do the extra work, you can make the extra cash.

11. Your schedule will be all over the place

Kiss your weekends and holidays goodbye. And be prepared to explain to your friends and family why you can’t always be counted on to come to dinners and birthday parties and weekends away. Eventually you’ll all get used to the way things have to be.

12. Your second family will be at work

Your coworkers will become your family. You’ll be battle tested. And you’ll see everything, process everything, mourn and celebrate everything as a little unit. You’ll love and hate them, and celebrate most holidays by their side.

13. You will come to depend upon breakfast

Is more important for you than for almost any one else in any other career. Make sure you eat it, even if you do it during your commute. It might be the only chance you get to eat. And try to load up on protein bars or drinks to keep you going when you only have two minutes to eat and no time to chew!

14. You will learn the meaning of commitment

Probably the most important thing to ask yourself is how much you actually want this. Nursing isn’t for everyone. It’s a thankless, underappreciated, underpaid profession, but if it’s what you love, you’ll be able to hang in there no matter what. Do a bit of soul searching to find the kind of dedication you’ll need to keep you going during the course of your long career.

About the author

Peter Jones