10 Tips for Surviving the First Week as a New Nurse

The first week of your nursing career will determine how your coworkers view and treat you during your time on that floor. As a new nurse myself, I learned a ton during the first few shifts.

10 Tips for Surviving the First Week as a New Nurse (as told by a new nurse)


1. Show up looking clean. Do your hair; a singular french braid is professional, but not required. Just keep the frizz at bay. Make sure your scrubs aren't super wrinkled as if you did laundry and left them in the dryer for hours. No need to iron or starch though.

2. Have scrubs that fit & layer. In most stores I am an adult S or a teen M, however, in the world of scrubs I am XXS. Make sure you try on scrubs before you buy. There are many different brands and cuts. Scrubs aren't meant to look cute in or impress anyone, but you also don't have to hate your body in them. Personally I use Cherokee Luxe Crossover V-Neck Pin-Tuck Top & the matching pants (not sponsored or affiliated). These are the softest without looking like pajamas. Hospitals are cold. Make sure you have an under layer. Personally I use yoga pants / leggings from my LuLaRoe friend, Christine. Cherokee Luxe is professional enough looking that I'm not intimidated talking to the resident on the floor. Add a layer of eye liner and I might even look like someone worth flirting with. (Sorry boys, but my heart is set on an accountant.)

3. Listen before you speak. Obviously say hello, but beyond that shut up until you get a sense of the floor and the group dynamics. It's better to be the shy one that took a minute to warm up, than to talk too much about yourself. You know nothing. You just graduated. Sure your hospital may still do things that aren't evidenced based practice (like Homan's sign), but if it doesn't harm the patient, keep your mouth shut for an hour. You are there to learn. You can ask about best practice later.

4. Nursing school taught you more than you think. If you went to a BSN program, you came out with leadership, community health, principles of psychology, therapeutic communication, and more. You did not learn how to manage time, start an IV, chart on 8 patients at the same time, or work with another nurse whilst being short staffed. I learned the basics, but not how to put together everything it takes to get the full picture of what is going on with the patient.

5. Anything can happen at any time. Get your ACLS, PALS, NRP, STABLE, what ever you need. During hospital orientation I said, "Do people today actually try to steal babies?" I thought that'll never happen to me. On my first day on my floor, my preceptor was in a meeting with the director and the other nurse was at lunch. I was on the floor with the lactation consultant when I heard the dreaded "code PINK." I didn't know what to do. Now, I do. (Thankfully it was just a drill, but the thought "that'll never happen on my watch" is a deadly thought. Stop it right now.)

6. It IS your job. Tray still in the room? Trash overflowing? Pt needing assistance to the bathroom? Vitals still need to be done even though the CNA is chatting on the phone to her boyfriend 3 states over? It is your job. If it affects the patient, can cause harm, or a dissatisfactory hospital experience, it is your job to fix it right now. Yes, call environmental services. Yes, speak with the CNA later. But right now, fix the problem.

7. Admit that you've never done it. Ask to see a demonstration. Before going to try something for the first time assuming that you learned it in nursing school so it can't be that hard, just admit that you haven't had a lot of practice and would like to watch the nurse do it first. Learn. Do. Teach. 

8. Teach the newbies (student nurses). You'll be amazed at how much you learn in the first few shifts. I'm just 1 month into my orientation, but I've already been able to bring nursing students under my wing and teach them. For my preceptor, she knows that not only did I learn these skills and connections (such as between Mom's blood type, baby's blood type, Coomb's test, and Bili) to take care of a patient myself, but I can teach someone else this information as well.

9. Enjoy yourself. Mistakes will happen. Never stop learning. This job isn't easy. It is easy though to feel overwhelmed. It is easy to feel like you won the worst nurse of the year award. It is easy to feel like you'll never be as quick as the other nurses. You are going as fast as you can, but you keep missing stuff. It's okay. You will get it. Nursing school taught you how take care of 1-2 patients, not 8. 

10. Paycheck & Budget & Retirement. The first paycheck will feel like a party when it clears the bank. You will want to celebrate a little, but don't go crazy. Plan out what you are going to do with that money before it arrives. What amount goes to student loans? What amount goes to retirement? Yes, some of paycheck #1 should go toward retirement. Try not to get overwhelmed; the company's 401k and a personal Roth-IRA are both good options. Read up a little bit and get started now. The earlier you put money away for retirement, the earlier you will make good money habits. Then, you can retire without worrying about money, social security, or medicare.

The new nurse,

Vera Lou Shaw, BSN, RN