Newly qualified nurses

Sharing your journey as a newly qualified nurse

A newly qualified nurse adjusting to the reality of working ‘alone’ finds that sharing her experiences with others is beneficial and rewarding

A newly qualified nurse adjusting to the reality of working ‘alone’ finds that sharing her experiences with others is beneficial and rewarding

Charlotte Hall with England’s chief nursing
officer Jane Cummings at Bristol Cathedral,
where there was a procession of future
nurses to mark Nurses’ Day on 12 May.

I recently graduated from the University of the West of England with a first-class honours degree in adult nursing, and have now joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.

I have been in my post as a newly qualified nurse for just over three months, and am on a rotation – medical, surgical and A&E. This is exactly what I wanted, so I was very excited to get started on an acute medical ward.

My first few months have been enjoyable but also very challenging. Making the transition from student to newly qualified nurse is daunting, and I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for doing your first shift unsupervised. But it does get easier, and things will start to click into place before you know it.

‘Not living up to my personal expectations’

Most of my anxiety and fear during those first few weeks working ‘alone’ came from the pressure I put on myself. I often felt as if I was failing and not living up to my personal expectations if I was unable to get all my tasks done, take breaks and leave on time.

I so desperately wanted to be like the knowledgeable and skilled nurses I admired and had been inspired by that I set myself up to fail by setting unrealistic goals for myself.

I had to remind myself that I am new to the role and still learning, and it is in the nature of our profession to make human errors and discover things we do not know on a daily basis.

‘Mistakes are inevitable’

The key is to try not to be too hard on yourself or judge your abilities too harshly. Making mistakes is inevitable – even skilled nurses with years of experience make mistakes. But if you are open and honest with your colleagues and patients you can use these errors to reflect on your practice and grow.

One thing that has become apparent is that organisations really value fresh eyes, and although you may be working ‘alone’ you are never truly working on your own. The other healthcare professionals in the multidisciplinary team have a wealth of knowledge and experience to help you.

Another important aspect of your journey is getting yourself on a preceptorship programme. These vary between organisations and include different learning elements, so it is important to research the best preceptorship programmes available in your area during your interview process.

‘Helping me to develop essential skills’

I have completed several preceptorship sessions and the learning has already been beneficial, helping me to develop essential skills such as intravenous drug administration and drug calculations, safe admissions and discharges, and understanding when and how to escalate concerns about a patient.

You also have the opportunity to hear from some of the organisation’s specialist nurses, who discuss and demonstrate theory and practice that you may not have covered at university. Preceptorship also helps you understand trust policies and procedures, and one of the biggest benefits is simply being in a room full of people who are in the same situation as you.

It’s a perfect opportunity to de-brief in a confidential and safe environment, reflect on practice and discuss any fears and concerns you may have, which are often shared by others.

It is highly likely that you are doing a much better job that you think in your new role, so avoid being harsh on yourself and remember, you are not alone in this experience.

‘Sharing my journey has been hugely beneficial’

For me, writing reflective blogs and sharing my journey via Twitter has been hugely beneficial. It has helped me to network and connect with others in the same position as me, and gain advice and guidance from the wealth of supportive and experienced nurses out there.

Follow my video diaries on Twitter using @charlotteRCN and #DiaryofaNQN, or click here to read my blog, which is part of the new #70NurseBloggers campaign by NHS England. 

#DiaryofaNQN has proved popular, with other nurses and students inspired to start their own diaries. I have now set up a community for nurse bloggers on Twitter to connect together called @BloggersNurse. This aims to bring together all nurse bloggers. You don’t have to be an expert, just willing to share your journey, so come and join us.

Advice on getting settled into life as a nurse

  • When you get your PIN confirmation, celebrate! You have worked so hard for your registration so hold on to that feeling of achievement
  • Keep asking questions – they aren’t silly questions, if you don’t know just ask 
  • Look after yourself and try not to worry about work when you’re not at work. Nursing is 24-hour care and we are all looking after our patients 
  • Keep a notebook in your pocket 
  • Don’t judge your abilities and knowledge on what you ‘don’t know’ – this is an ever-changing and ever-learning field of practice
  • Always check your pockets before you leave your shift so you don’t go home with the keys!  
  • Take time to reflect on what you’re doing well and what you would like to improve on
  • Read the backs of protocols and care plans, they nearly always tell you exactly what you need to do next when escalating a patient
  • Ask colleagues, patients and managers for feedback, just as you would on placement
  • Take your breaks and try to leave work on time
  • Stay hydrated and make time to go to the toilet as needed
  • Book your annual leave as soon as possible to make sure you get a well-deserved break 
  • Tell people you are new and tell the patients too, they love it. I got a little round of applause at the end of my first week

Charlotte Hall is a staff nurse at Gloucestershire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, a student member of RCN council and chair of the RCN UK students committee

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