Finding Your Feet in the Deep End

Hone your abilities and one day YOU will be the experienced nurse

A nurse in scrubs is shaking hands with someone else. The nurse is holding a pink clipboard in their other hand

Whether you’re a new grad or mid-careerist, working alongside established, experienced nurses can be Intimidating. They seem to glide in and out of rooms without a care; their head-to-toe assessments are perfectly documented; and when they draw up IV medications, they already know what drugs require a normal saline dilution and over exactly how many minutes to administer it.

Just watching them in action, you can’t help but question yourself and fear that you may be out of your depth. After 16 years in this profession, I’m no longer a newbie, but getting my feet under me and my head above water was a years-long process.

Steps for Success

Instead of measuring ourselves against the performance and competency of seasoned nurses, it’s best to up our own game. Here’s how:

Leave the house early

This will allow for the possibility of hectic traffic and a crowded parking lot. Ensuring you arrive on time for the start of your shift will decrease anxiety, instill confidence and be a pleasant sight to your coworkers and management.

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Do the job right

Throughout your career, you’ll encounter situations that you’re not familiar with. For example, you may be called upon to chart using medical terms that seem at first like a foreign language. When in doubt concerning what to do, consult a more senior nurse or manager, or look up unfamiliar terms in a medical dictionary for the exact meaning and correct spelling. You’re building your skill base and reputation — cutting corners is not an option.

Attack your weaknesses

What part of the job is a challenge? Address it! If you find it takes forever to put together care plans for your patients, meticulously study books on that topic. If you’re struggling to remember medication facts, create flash cards on the meds most frequently used in your department. Whatever your weaknesses are, face and fix them without delay.

Put one foot in front of the other

Caring for multiple patients with multiple needs at the same time can feel so overwhelming that you freeze up with uncertainty. Here’s a rule of thumb: Determine which patient or task is most critical and address that one first. After that, pick another task and then another. And don’t hesitate to jot down notes about points you may not remember later.

Hiring Now

Zero in and limit distractions

On every shift, with every patient, focus ALL of your energy on what you’re doing right now. Established nurses may be able to zip onto a floor with minutes to spare, immediately begin chatting with staff and still take care of patients without missing a beat, but that isn’t practical for all nurses. Trying to divide your attention will just add to your stress level and set you up to make more mistakes. Save your socializing and networking for lunch or breaks and focus on the task at hand.

It may be hard to believe now, but as you hone your skills, what seems overwhelming will begin to feel natural. One day, you’ll find it’s YOU that other nurses aspire to become!

NANCY CONGLETON, RN, is a registered nurse and author of Autopsy of the NP: Dissecting the Nursing Profession Piece by Piece, released in August 2018. Learn more at www.nursenancyrn.com.

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