I’ll never forget the moment I ran into a friend who’d just graduated from the same nursing program. We’d both finished our nursing shifts at the hospital and were harried and exhausted.
“Nursing school did not prepare us for this!” My friend exclaimed, her blonde hair falling from a haphazardly placed ponytail. I agreed, relieved that I wasn’t the only new RN overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of floor nursing. And sure enough, it kept happening. Again and again, I’d hear from old college friends just to find out that being a nurse wasn’t what they had imagined it to be like either. What was nursing really like? Well…
· Night Shift isn’t a Rite of Passage
As a student nurse, I thought that working night shift was something we would all have to do in order to get a job, as though nightshift was the rite of passage into respectable nursing practice. What I discovered once I began working nightshift was that in a world where nurses continue to be in high demand, you don’t have to settle for a position you don’t want. Leave nightshift to those who are made for it. You’ll know these nurses to be independent thinkers with no need for routine sleep schedules.
· Time and Trauma Bring People Together
Starting a new job is terrifying and the desire for friendship can set up new nurses for failure. Nursing has a steep learning curve and, in the first few months, it’s important to focus on the skills needed to make your career successful rather than bonding with your peers. In time, your coworkers will see your hard work and respect you for it, especially when the trauma of your first Code, Rapid Response, or patient death sets in. Nothing brings staff together like working side by side to save their patient.
· Respect is Earned…and That Means You’ll Need to be Your Own Advocate
Speaking of respect, it’s definitely something that you don’t think too much about as a student. But, as a graduate nurse, you’re instantly scrutinized, sized up, and decided upon by senior nurses who want you to perform your best for their patients. While it’s important to take advice from other nurses, practicing self-advocacy when shifts go south is an important part of teamwork on the hospital floor.
· Learning Never Stops Just Because You’ve Received Your Diploma
Passing your NCLEX seems like the end of an era but really, the learning has just begun. Once you’re working as a Registered Nurse, you’ll find that knowing facts is one thing, but putting them into practice takes another few years to really understand.
· You’ll Find Out You’re Capable of More Than You Ever Knew
While not all nursing students believe that becoming a nurse is a true “calling,” most of us quickly develop a new understanding of that belief once we hit the floors. Nursing practice pushes you to your limits, demands that you think harder, care more, and stay awake longer than you ever thought possible. Finally taking off your shoes after a day at work that, despite being a train wreck in some ways, proved you’re capable of more than you ever thought possible, is a seriously rewarding experience.
Now, when I see old classmates, we laugh about that first year as a nurse. Yes, it’s a tough job, but the friends we’ve made at work and the patients we’re lucky enough to care for have become extensions of our families. And, if nothing else, that’s a part of nursing that will pleasantly surprise you.