Nursing Career Tips for Starting Off on the Right Foot

Nursing school education is extensive but it can’t cover everything. Be mentally prepared for the reality shock that often accompanies a new nursing job.

Congratulations! After years of preparation, you’re finally ready to start your nursing career! Here comes the scary part – navigating your new job. Getting used to clinical oversight, a demanding schedule, and not having on-going guidance from your instructors is a lot to handle. Numerous studies report that many nurses leave their first jobs within the year, because they are overwhelmed. However, the following nursing career tips for starting off on the right foot will help your transition from student to staff nurse be successful.

Don’t Run From Reality

Nursing school education is extensive but it can’t cover everything. Be mentally prepared for the reality shock that often accompanies a new nursing job.


Always Be Professional

    • Be on time, or early, to prepare for your shift and review your assigned patients with the nurse from the prior shift.
    • Acting as a team player can provide opportunities to learn from seasoned nurses while bonding with your coworkers.
    • Tread lightly and avoid negative gossip. This includes comments outside of work, or on social media. First impressions can last and you don’t want to cross anyone at the start of your career.


Understand The Challenges

    • Becoming a staff nurse can be shockingly different than the student nursing experience. Long shifts, family adjustments, and limited staffing might damper your expectations, but don’t let it deflate your enthusiasm.
    • New nurses are often utilized for unit coverage. If today’s assignment isn’t ideal, consider it as an opportunity to add skills to your resume.
    • Don’t pass judgment on your nursing career by your first day, month, or even your first year. Many factors play a role in achieving job satisfaction.

Look Closer On Your Nursing Rounds

There’s more to learn about being a nurse than what’s presented in the classroom. Ask questions about the leadership of the organization, the culture, working environment, and staff turnover rates as you align your new job with your career goals. These factors all play a role in increasing job satisfaction.


Identify Your Priorities

    • Health care careers cover patients every day of the year. Consider if the hours and tasks specific to a specialty coordinate with your work and life balance.
    • Determine where pay rate ranks in your job priorities. Different shifts, specialties and locations are accompanied by varied pay rates.
    • If you can’t find your ideal job in your area, explore additional opportunities if you’re open to relocating or travel nursing.


Evaluate Your First Choice

    • Most seasoned nurses are happy to share their wealth of knowledge. Gain as much experience and education as you can from them.
    • If you discover your first job choice does not meet your expectations, examine what part of nursing brings you the most joy and then explore different areas of nursing.
    • Allow yourself the ability to change your mind. You may fall in love with an element of nursing that surprises you.

You Are Not On This Path Alone

Your first nursing job will most likely not be your last. Take advantage of this time to gain experience, identify your strengths and build professional relationships.


Never Stop Learning

    • Listen during orientation, but don’t stay silent. Ask curious questions to gain insight about what you could have done better, or differently, in a situation.
    • Take advantage of preceptor time, and/or educational opportunities offered.
    • Find a mentor and work on building a long term professional relationship. Accept their advice with an open mind and do not bristle over constructive criticism.


Build Your Resume

  • You might discover that the job, or the company, is nothing like you envisioned. Keep your resume fresh and updated as you acquire new skills or for unexpected opportunities.
  • Don’t rush to leave a new job. Sometimes communicating with your supervisor about dissatisfying elements of the job can bring about positive changes.
  • Finding your perfect job might take time, but don’t burn bridges as you navigate your career. Be professional while looking for a new job, or utilizing a staffing company.


Put Your Best Foot Forward

At the end of the day, you can’t take care of your patients if you don’t care for yourself. Small steps can make a big difference in how you feel every day.

Take Good Care of Yourself

    • Invest in comfortable support shoes and hose. Nurses spend much of their time on their feet and long hours can take a toll on your body.
    • You need to be alert, and working varied shifts can make this a challenge. Make your sleep schedule a priority.
    • Plan healthy meals rather than grabbing a sugary snack that leaves you drained.


Avoid Burnout

    • To provide good patient care, plan time to engage in relaxing activities to reduce stress and return to work refreshed and rejuvenated.
    • Organize your tasks and work on time management to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
    • Disconnect to maintain a positive personal and work balance. One suggestion is to unwind by listening to podcasts, an audiobook or music on your daily commute.

Enjoy The Journey

Sure, starting your new nursing career can be one of the most stressful times of your life, but it can also be one of the most exciting! By making an effort to continue learning on the job and evaluating your priorities, you can make the most of your nursing career. Take advantage of every opportunity to continue learning so you do more than just survive; you thrive.


Interested in more career tips?  Explore our nursing career transition toolkit!

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