Newly qualified nurses

I have a lot still to learn, but my degree has prepared me for nursing

The emotional rollercoaster of Zoe Butler’s first few months as a nurse made her question her ability to cope with the pressures of the role, until she realised her degree had provided her with the foundations to succeed

The emotional rollercoaster of Zoe Butler’s first few months as a nurse made her question her ability to cope with the pressures of the role, until she realised her degree had provided her with the foundations to succeed


Picture: John Houlihan

I had been told that the first few months as a registered nurse would push me in ways I didn’t expect, and the emotional rollercoaster I have been through over the past few months has at times left me tired, frustrated and questioning my abilities.

On some days I have questioned everything – my competence, knowledge, passion and ability to cope with the never-ending pressures of my role.

I have heard numerous comments about how every new job is stressful, and how new nurses have to ‘sink or swim’. But the most frustrating comments are from those who say the degree programme does not prepare nursing students for the role of the registered nurse.

When I started my nursing degree I was under no illusions that it was going to be easy. It involves long hours and constant studying, and is emotionally and mentally exhausting.

Family baffled by demands of the job

I had felt nursing was my calling from a young age, and it was the profession I fell in love with, but there are no healthcare professionals in my family so it certainly went against the grain.

My family have been very supportive but are often baffled by the long hours, overtime and extra research and training I undertake as part of my role.

I started my training as a novice, working with healthcare assistants and nurses to learn the fundamentals of nursing, such as personal care, basic observations and the routines of clinical practice.

As I continued through the course, my degree-level education gave me an enhanced understanding of the importance of critical thinking and evidence-based practice, and the effects of my actions as a nurse.

An ability to research and evaluate

Although I still had a lot to learn after graduating, when I got my first job on an orthopaedic trauma unit I was prepared to take on the responsibilities that come with being a newly qualified nurse.

The unit is one of the busiest surgical units in my trust. Staff care for the sickest patients, dealing with acute injury and the comorbidities that affect a patient’s health. The acuity of patients has increased even in the short time I have been working, something I have had to adapt to.

Nurses do not simply undertake tasks – we analyse, inform and deliver patient care with skill. My degree education helped prepare me for this by developing my analytical skills, giving me the ability to research and evaluate, to put evidence-based care into practice, and to understand how my approaches will benefit patients.

Complexity of modern nursing

When I carry out practical tasks such as wound care, intravenous drug administration and oxygen therapy, I do so with an understanding of the benefits, risks and appropriate management of these interventions.

I am also able to identify complications more quickly, titrate and alter therapies to suit a patient’s needs, and most importantly to explain to patients why they are receiving a particular treatment, so that they and their families can make informed decisions.

Modern nursing is complex, and pre-registration education has to reflect this. I still have a lot to learn, which will come with experience as I progress through my nursing career, but my degree education has given me a great start, equipping me with the foundations of the knowledge and skills I need in order to be able to deliver high-quality, safe care to my patients.


Zoe Butler graduated from the University of Cumbria in September 2017 and now works as a staff nurse at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire.

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