Clinical: New to Nursing: 20 tips for early career nurses

New to Nursing: 20 tips for early career nurses

Osmosis Team
Published on Aug 14, 2023. Updated on Aug 7, 2023.

In today's Osmosis blog, we're sharing top tips from a recent webinar with our very own Nurse Paige and Nurse Maria on how to excel in your first year on the job. Take a moment to relax (we're absolutely sure you deserve it) and share it with other new nurses on your team.

You did it! You made it through nursing school, and you’re ready to begin your career as a new nurse. Undoubtedly, you’re just as excited as you are nervous. It’s all so new, daunting, and overwhelming, and it’s perfectly normal to feel scared and unprepared.

If you’ve made it to this point, rest assured that you’re ready and you’ll be an amazing nurse. Here, we’ll provide 20 tips to help you kickstart your career and be the best nurse you can be. 

1. Get Organized

As an entry-level nurse, between orientation, paperwork, and training, there will be a ton of information coming at you at your first job. Organizing and prioritizing your tasks with a to-do list can help reduce the overwhelm you feel during the day as a nurse. For example, you can prioritize medication times and then organize the rest of your tasks around that. Additionally, tidying and organizing your rooms and keeping them all the same can help as well. 

2. Know Your Patients 

To make sure your patients are doing okay throughout your shift, make it a point to know their baseline (vital signs, pain level, and mental state) so you can detect any changes. Plus, when it’s time to hand off your patients to the next shift, you’ll already have information that’s critical to share. We suggest following SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation).

Illustration of the SBAR nursing handoff acronym: Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation

3. Seek Out Learning Opportunities

Don’t be afraid to ask other nurses and staff to help you learn! We encourage you to seek out professional development opportunities. If something is new to you, take the time to learn the specifics and make sure to practice skills you already have. 

4. When In Doubt, Look It Up

This applies to policies, procedures, and anything you need to brush up on. Often, you can access policies and procedures right from an app. Policies and guidelines may change even from floor to floor within the same facility, so always do this before doing a procedure for the first time in a new location.

Need a refresher? Search for a topic in Osmosis.

Illustration of a nurse connecting with a patient in a hospital bed.

5. Practice Humility

Humility can be tough because you want to get to that point where you really know what you’re doing. Even if you were the best in your class in nursing school, you’re still a new nurse. Be humble when you get constructive feedback, and don’t be too proud to learn from it. 

6. Trust Your Instincts

Even when you’re new, you know enough to know if something doesn’t feel right. If you feel like something is wrong, investigate it. Don’t be afraid to call the provider or talk to your RN preceptor, even if it’s something you can’t put your finger on. It’s better to investigate and have it be nothing than to fail to investigate something that could have helped or saved your patient. 

Illustration of a woman biting her nails looking nervous.

7. It’s Normal To Be Nervous

Being nervous shows that you care; even the most seasoned nurses get nervous. Preparation can help. For example, if you’re going to call a provider and are nervous about the call, you can practice and prepare for the call but still know that your feelings are normal and valid. 

8. Ask Questions

Even if it feels nerve-wracking or embarrassing, ask questions! Maybe you once knew, but you forgot, or maybe you feel like you should know; regardless of the reason, it’s better to ask the question than to assume and make an error. It helps you take great care of your patients, and it helps you learn. 

9. Ask For Help

You don’t have to feel guilty or nervous about asking for help. Nursing is a team sport. Everybody needs help, not just new nurses. And don’t forget to return the favor by supporting team members that need help in the future!

10. Read The Chart (EHR)

Charts can be overwhelming, especially if the patient has been part of the facility for a long time. Get a baseline to start, then do your nursing tasks, and when you have more time, look at their chart in more detail to learn more about their history, lab results, imaging, and any other pertinent information.

Additional reading -> The Anatomy of a Chart: How to read and interpret an EHR

11. Document Or It Didn’t Happen 

Documentation promotes continuity of care; it helps the nurse on the next shift know what happened. It can also protect your license. If you don’t have time to go into a patient’s chart right away, jot your observations down on a piece of paper, and enter them into the chart when you have a chance.  

 Illustration of a nurse entering documentation into his computer.

12. Keep Good Habits

This applies to your whole nursing career. Try to avoid (supposed) shortcuts, and always practice safe, appropriate, and proper care. This will benefit you and your patients in the long run. 

13. Practice And Cultivate Kindness 

Cultivate kindness, support each other, and always speak up if you feel you're the victim of bullying. Being kind in the workplace helps improve the work environment for everyone, and it can even help with collaboration and patient outcomes. 

14. Have Self-Compassion

Be patient with yourself. When you start anything new, it’s normal to be stressed or overwhelmed. You’re learning both a new profession and a new culture. Appreciate how far you’ve come, and know that adjusting won’t happen overnight. 

Mental health tips: Take regular breaks, seek rest & relaxation, practice deep breathing and mindfulness, eat right, stay hydrated.

15. Take Your Breaks

Whether it’s just fifteen minutes or your lunch break, take your breaks. Breaks help you relax, refuel, and provide better care to your patients. You’re entitled to breaks, and you should take them for your and your patient's safety. 

16. It’s Okay To Say No

It doesn’t always feel like it’s okay to say no, but it is okay. As a new nurse, there’s a lot on your plate, especially in the beginning. You don’t have to feel guilty for saying no to an extra shift or to hanging out with a friend. It’s not possible to make everybody happy, and you need to prioritize your physical and mental health. 

Illustration of a woman on a purple couch drinking tea and petting her dog.

17. Self-Care Isn't Selfish

You have to take care of yourself in order to provide safe patient care and avoid burnout. Build self-care into your daily routine. Every day, do something that’s just for you. Whether it’s watching TV, taking a nap, exercising, or meditating, self-care can be anything that you enjoy doing (along with doing what's necessary to stay healthy and happy).

18. Lean On Your Support System

A support system is important inside and outside of nursing. This way, you can take a break from your job, and you can also get support from people who understand what it’s like to be a nurse. Your nursing support system can be found within Osmosis as well.

Illustration of a team of nurses cheering

19. Nursing Outside Of Med-Surg

Med-surg units are wonderful places to learn, but that’s not the end all be all for your first nursing position. Choose a job that will make you happy, so if you are interested in another field, there are opportunities anywhere you want to go. 

20. Trust The Process

Nursing gets easier over time. Hard days always happen, but it won’t always feel so daunting. The days are long, but the months are short. It will become more comfortable and you'll get more confident as time passes.

With these tips, all the long hours of studying, plus your clinical experience, we’re confident you’ll make a great nurse. And remember, we’re always here at Osmosis to help you every step of the way!