Tips for New Nurses: What I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Nursing Career

Nursing Careers

Committing to a nursing career is a life-changing decision. I am now seven years into my nursing career and never looked back. During this time, I have worked in women’s health, family medicine, sleep, and infusion. I love being a nurse and being a part of this rewarding profession!

Starting out as a new nurse can be overwhelming and it would have been helpful to know what to expect. In this blog post I will share what I wish I knew before starting my nursing career, offer practical tips for soon-to-be new nurses, and discuss the rewarding experiences I had as a new nurse.

From Graduation to Practice: My First Steps as a Nurse

Nursing Degree Program Faculty and Students in lab After earning my BSN, I embarked on my first position at an outpatient women’s health office as an RN. I was thrilled to finally finish school, pass the NCLEX, and begin working as an RN. At my first job, I provided family planning services, contraceptive counseling, and preventive women’s health services. I also played a large role in triaging all patient calls and lab results. Looking back, my early success was due to joining a group of nurses, physicians, and support staff that were encouraging and open to training a new graduate nurse.

To nursing students reading this, my biggest tip for the new nurse transition period is to find an employer that is supportive of new graduate nurses. A positive work culture that is new-nurse friendly will go a long way in ensuring you have a good experience as you transition to practice.

The Reality of Early Career Nursing

While nursing school prepares you with the essential preparation to be a safe bedside nurse, it is impossible to really understand what it is like to be a nurse until you start working. I realized quickly that I had more to learn about nursing and medicine when I started my first job. Since I began my career in a specialty setting, there were lab tests, medications, and procedures I had never heard of, so there was a large learning curve, fresh out of school.

Feeling overwhelmed is inevitably going to be part of the process. Remember that the “growing pains” get easier and that they will help you develop into a competent nurse in the end.

Essential Tips for Early Career Nurses

Based on my personal experience, here are a few other tips for future nurses I would like to share, outlined below:

  • Interview your Employer. As much as your interviewer will be learning about you while you look for your first RN position, look at these conversations as opportunities for you to “interview” your employer. Make sure the first nursing position you take out of school will be a good fit. Come prepared to your interview with questions about orientation, training, and support for new graduate nurses. You can also ask to visit the unit you may be working on to get a feel for it and to speak with some of the current staff.
  • Don’t Forget Your Critical Thinking. In nursing school, critical thinking and making sound clinical judgments is highly emphasized, and for good reason! As a nurse, you will constantly be making clinical decisions that directly impact patient outcomes. While it may be challenging to apply this as a new nurse, this skill is incredibly important to embody in your everyday work as a nurse to ensure patient safety, starting on day one.
  • Make Sure You Practice Self-Care. Starting a nursing career is challenging. Nurses these days are expected to take on more and more given the staffing shortages many institutions are facing. Stress and burnout are an unfortunate reality within the nursing profession but can be managed with self-care. Self-care means taking the time to focus on your own wellbeing, physically, emotionally and mentally. Focusing on self-care reduces stress and can improve the quality of care you provide to patients.
  • Consider a Nurse Residency Program. Nurse residency programs are offered by many healthcare organizations. These “transition to practice” programs are designed to help new nurses at the beginning of their careers and can be anywhere from nine to twelve months in length. While individual residency programs vary, they all offer structured precepted orientation periods, extra training geared towards new nurses, and strategies to help transition new nurses to bedside care. A number of these programs are also accredited by agencies such as The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). I would encourage any soon-to-be nurse to look into these types of programs as a first job out of school.

Nursing School Prepares You For a Rewarding Career!

Thankfully, there were many things I found immediately rewarding as I started my nursing career. The content I learned in courses such as health assessment, pharmacology, and pathophysiology did come together and “click” as I began to take care of patients. When you are sitting in class, it can be difficult to see the big picture. Attending a high-quality nursing program that gives you a strong foundation that really does set you up for success.

I also enjoyed the immediate satisfaction that came from helping others and answering questions regarding their health, treatment plans, and medications. Knowing that I am making a difference in patients’ lives and their families is incredibly gratifying. As a brand-new nurse when things got tough, I reminded myself how fulfilling is to help others in their time of need.

I was also incredibly proud from my first day of work to join a profession that is known as the most trusted and ethical profession by Americans. This recognition is something I am still honored to carry with me today as a nurse.

Lastly, even from day one of my nursing career, I was excited by the prospect of my future career as an RN and how this would unfold. Nursing is a dynamic field with endless opportunities for specialization and advanced practice. I knew that my path forward would be exciting and that I chose the best career possible!

Why the Right Educational Foundation is Crucial

Nursing School RN Students and FacultyThe early days after starting a nursing career are challenging yet rewarding. Your choice of nursing program sets the foundation for your nursing career, so choosing a high-quality program is a crucial first step in becoming a nurse. Arizona College of Nursing is an excellent choice for nursing school given its CCNE-accreditation, assistance with NCLEX preparation, and emphasis on high quality clinical experiences and student support.

Are you ready to start your nursing education? You can learn more about Arizona College of Nursing’s 3-year BSN program here.

Author Bio

Tana Bao is an experienced advanced practice registered nurse. She earned her BSN from The University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2016 and her MSN from Thomas Jefferson University in 2019. She is board certified to practice as a family nurse practitioner with both The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (NP-C) and The American Nurses Credentialing Center (FNP-BC). Clinically, she has worked in various medical settings including women’s health, sleep medicine, infusion, and primary care. She now also writes professionally as a health content writer and has also completed a post master’s graduate certificate in nursing education.


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