Newly qualified nurses

I completed my nursing degree and set my sights on London

Reece Doonan shares his experiences of making a big move for his first job after qualifying

Reece Doonan shares his experiences of making a big move for his first job after qualifying

Picture: iStock

During a lecture in my second year of training, our tutor was talking about how we should start looking for our first nursing jobs. 

‘This nursing degree will take you anywhere you want to go,’ she said.

I remembered those words, especially at the beginning of my third year, when I started to think about working somewhere completely new after I qualified.

At the time I was living in Preston, Lancashire, and I thought: why don’t I give London a go? The idea of moving to a new NHS trust in another part of the country was terrifying, but I knew that working in a large London teaching hospital would be a great opportunity for a newly qualified nurse.

Big city culture shock

I applied for a post in major trauma and orthopaedics at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Tooting, south London, and I was excited when I learned I had got the job – London here I come!

But when the time came to make the move, the nerves started to kick in and I felt anxious. Preston had been my home for three years and I had family, friends and a busy social life in the area.

The thought of moving so far away was daunting, not to mention the prospect of living and working in a city where I didn’t know anyone.

I don’t think I prepared myself mentally as much as I could have for becoming a ‘Londoner’. I was struck by the bright lights and big city lifestyle, and it was a bit of a culture shock, to say the least.  

‘I felt I wasn’t working at the same pace as the other nurses on the ward and began comparing myself to them’

But I soon learned to love the diversity of London, something I hadn’t considered before making the move. Working with healthcare professionals from across the globe, and being exposed to the different races, religions and beliefs of both patients and staff has been a wonderful element of my London journey.

Starting in a new work environment was a tough challenge. I had worked in trauma and orthopaedics before so was familiar with the specialty, but I was hard on myself at first.

I felt I wasn’t working at the same pace as the other nurses on the ward and began comparing myself to them. I’m sure many others have felt the same, whether starting a placement as a student or taking up their first nursing post.  

But after a conversation with my ward manager, I realised I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself. I had moved to a new trust in a new city, and it was my first job as a newly qualified nurse, after all.

Work and life

There were lots of experienced and junior staff on the ward to offer support and advice, but there was still a lot to get my head around. This could be mentally challenging and I often left a tough shift feeling like my batteries were empty.

One of the ways I learned to manage this was to become a ‘sponge’, soaking up all the knowledge and skills from the more experienced nurses on the ward to help develop my own.

Ensuring I had a good work-life balance was essential to recharge my batteries, and I found exploring my new city was a great way to de-stress.

‘Leave work at the door, go home and relax,’ she told me. ‘When you come back to work, pick it back up and go for it’

Writing down my reflections also helped – as well as improving my understanding of the job, it reminded me that behind my nurse’s uniform I’m a human being.

One of my colleagues put it best when she was reassuring me during a period of self-doubt and exhaustion. ‘Regardless of what you do in your 12-hour shift, the NHS will continue without you,’ she said.

‘We are a 24-hour, seven-day service, 365 days a year. Leave work at the door, go home and relax. When you come back to work, pick it back up and go for it. Be the best that you can be, but remember – we can't do everything. You're not a one-man band.’

Fear of making mistakes

I’m the type of person who just gets on with the job, and my own thoughts and feelings often come second. It’s only when I get home and wind down that I start to reflect on situations at work.

With no mentor to turn to, the responsibility resting on my 23-year-old shoulders sometimes feels overwhelming. I am terrified of making mistakes, a feeling common to many newly-qualified nurses, I’m sure.

My first year as a newly qualified nurse has been a great experience and I have learned some valuable lessons, the most important of which is don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I pride myself on having a strong work ethic and good time management skills, but regardless of how hard I tried to stay afloat, some days I felt that even if I had four arms I would still need another pair to keep up.

It’s vital to remember that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, so don’t be too hard on yourself, and allow yourself time to adjust and become comfortable in your new work environment. You have worked incredibly hard to get to where you are today so give yourself a break, and always ask if there is something you do not know.

Reece Doonan is a staff nurse in trauma and orthopaedics at St George’s Hospital in south London

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