Well you made it through nursing school. Congrats! That is a huge accomplishment. Whether your NCLEX exam is behind you or still in progress, you are on your way! Here are some tips to help you be successful for the long haul.
Have Ways to Positively Cope With Stress
You likely realize that you have entered a high-stress work environment. What you may not realize is how that stress can accumulate without your awareness. Right now you are so busy trying to keep up with all the new things you’re practicing, as well as trying to stay balanced with the rest of your life. Make conscious time-outs for yourself for the purpose of de-stressing. Journaling everyday helps me tremendously to process the stressful events of the day, to ask questions like why something happened a certain way, and how to proceed in the future. Taking time to think about the events of the day or week will allow you to learn from these situations, rather than just keep plowing through day by day and end up stressed out. Even small amounts of time to recharge can be refreshing. Exercise, time with friends and family, enjoying a nice (healthy) meal, music, or whatever you personally find joy in can be a huge help to stave off burnout and stay balanced as a busy nurse.
Form Good Habits From the Start
You may already be aware of the endless array of donuts, cookies, cakes, and pizza found in break rooms. Shift work, long hours, high stress, and yummy junk food everywhere can easily lead to weight gain. Try not to get too hungry and overdo it on these tempting treats. Maybe you are able to go many hours without eating, but it might be good to keep healthy snacks like protein bars or yogurt with you to have even if you’re really busy. Smoothies are a great option. You can have one in a covered container near your computer while documenting to keep you fueled during your busy shifts. Adequate sleep may become a real problem with shift work. If working nights, making your bedroom as dark as possible with black-out curtains or an eye mask can help you get the quality sleep you need. Earplugs may help. Have a regular sleep-wake cycle if possible, even if it’s shift-work related. Regular exercise can also be a huge boost to your overall quality of health.
Work Safely, Even if it Means Going a Little Slower
Accept the fact that you have a lot to learn and it’s just not worth rushing and possibly making a big mistake. Your pace will increase as you get more familiar with your routine. Some things will become second nature, like coming in, getting report or researching your patients, getting your supplies for your shift, reviewing your labs and MARs, etc. At that point, when out of the ordinary things happen, (as they constantly will in various ways) you can deal with them as they arise. Then you can continue with your normal routine without getting too rattled by much of anything. Getting to that point takes time to develop. For now, you are trying different ways to do things, imprinting in your mind the best ways for you to accomplish your tasks and gain confidence. So try to take your time.
You can’t be too careful with look-alike sound-alike drugs or units of measurements. It may seem tedious to do all the checks that are required, and it is. But every once in a while, think about what could happen if you gave the wrong patient meds or the wrong concentration. A new nurse at a hospital I worked at gave 100 units of insulin to her patient, mixing up the dose with the concentration. The patient died. As nurses, we give meds all day, everyday. It can become very routine, so it’s good to keep in mind that a medication mistake can cause great harm or even death.
Is your expensive stethoscope labeled? Do you have bandage scissors nearby? Having your essentials with you, like tape, alcohol pads, flushes, and a flashlight will help you work efficiently. When getting report and researching your patients, get into the routine of jotting down info you will usually need to be aware of, like last time pain meds were given, IV fluid name and rate, date of IV site changing, last BM and whatever other pertinent information you need to reduce the frequency of looking things up later. Documenting regular progress notes is very helpful, as even during very busy shifts you will have a sense of control to some degree. Every couple of hours, or per your hospital’s policy, note specific patient details. This will also serve as a protection for you if you are ever called on to remember a particular patient, such as in a courtroom.
Be Patient With Yourself
There is a tremendous amount of information and tasks that you as the nurse are expected to be responsible for. Focus on the basics, and realize that you are qualified to do the job you’ve been hired for. Try not to compare yourself with others. Your pace is your own, and you have a lot to get used to, so set realistic goals for yourself. Talk with more experienced nurses that you feel comfortable with that will give you honest advice and will support you on your learning curve.
You have truly chosen a job with many options and possibilities to look forward to! As you get comfortable with basic nursing care, you will be able to go on and explore the many opportunities to fit your personal needs and preferences. Don’t rush, work safely, and form good habits from the start. Then you will be on your way to becoming an excellent nurse!