Newly qualified nurses

My first year as a registered nurse: a crisis of confidence, a shift in perspective

In the first of a series of regular updates, RCNi nursing student of the year Zoe Butler explains how taking on too much responsibility led to a sudden loss of confidence, and why it is so important that graduate nurses are supported in the workplace.

In the first of a series of regular updates, RCNi nursing student of the year Zoe Butler explains how taking on too much responsibility led to a sudden loss of confidence, and why it is so important that graduate nurses are supported in the workplace


Zoe Butler. Picture: John Houlihan

My nursing degree equipped me with the skills and knowledge to take up my first staff nurse post, but I soon realised that I am only at the beginning of my professional development journey.

The transition from nursing student to qualified nurse can be a stressful and scary time. As a student, you have mentors and tutors to validate your competencies, but as a newly qualified nurse this confidence in your abilities depends largely on your own perceptions of your competence.

If not fully supported, graduate nurses can feel isolated during this transition. But by seeking support within the work environment, and through critical reflection, we can gain the necessary confidence to practice autonomously while meeting our own learning needs.

Feelings

Although the transition is stressful, I am using it as an opportunity to be self-critical, and to alter my work routines and habits to better suit my new role. Logging my emotional stressors helps me understand why I am experiencing these emotions, and how to act on these feelings appropriately to better my experience and create learning goals.

I was so excited to start my new role. All I wanted to do was make a good impression on my patients and new team mates, showing them that not only was I capable, I was passionate about providing high quality care.

But with my enthusiasm came my first difficulty. As I whizzed around all day, assisting at any opportunity, I did not stop to give myself time to think about the effects of each task I undertook.

Overwhelmed

I managed this well at first, helping healthcare assistants with their tasks, asking fellow nurses if they needed assistance, and taking on a peer mentor role to other newly qualified nurses.

But this meant a lot of extra responsibility, which eventually led to a ‘crash’ moment. Finding it difficult to handle, I was leaving work feeling overwhelmed and lacking confidence in my ability to manage my caseload.

This crash in confidence happened because I was pouring my heart and soul into my work without giving myself time to recuperate, or to consider how confidently I completed each task.

Fitting in

I was using the skills and knowledge I had gained as a student, but I wasn’t taking the time to evaluate how these related to my own practices and where I should focus my learning.

Being so in tune with the emotions of my patients, and the colleagues I was supporting, I forgot that under my blue uniform was a young woman who was nervous and new to this role.

Confidence and learning go hand in hand, but this is not just about clinical skills – it involves learning about ourselves as people and how we fit within our new role, and not being taken for granted.

I have learned that I need to take a step back, not be afraid to ask for help, and not try to take on the world all at once. Confidence comes one step at a time.


Guidelines for NursesZoe Butler is the winner of the Andrew Parker student nurse award at the 2017 RCNi Nurse Awards. After graduating from the University of Cumbria in September 2017, she now works as a staff nurse in orthopaedics.

The Andrew Parker Student Nurse Award is sponsored by Guidelines for Nurses.

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