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New Grad Nurses: Applying What You Learned in Nursing School

Adela Ellis, RN
October 13, 2020
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After spending several years in school earning your nursing degree, you may feel like the hard work is done. In reality, though, it has only just begun. Your first few days, weeks, months, and even years working as a nurse require a lot of hard work, and they can be incredibly nerve-wracking. 

It’s one thing to have mastered abstract concepts while working in a classroom setting. It’s another thing entirely to put your recently acquired knowledge and skills to use when working with real patients. 

How to Apply What You Learned in Nursing School to Life as a Working Nurse

As a recent nursing new grad, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and even a little bit frightened. Applying what you learned in the classroom to the hospital floor is challenging, but it must be done. 

From your first day all the way through your first year (or maybe even the first few years), you are setting the tone for your entire nursing career. While no one expects perfection on your first day, the things you do now lay the framework for the rest of your career. Start your career in nursing off on the right foot by following the advice below!

Ask Questions

Earning a nursing degree doesn’t mean you know everything. Working in a hospital is different from learning in a classroom setting in numerous ways. Even if you have an idea of how to handle a particular situation in a classroom setting, you may not be so sure what to do in the real world. And even if you’ve completed extensive simulation-based training in nursing, it’s not a replacement for real-world learning. 

If you aren’t sure what to do or how to handle something, just ask. The hospital floor is no place for guesswork. New nurses are expected to ask questions, and failure to do so is often seen as a red flag. No matter what degrees and licenses you hold, you don’t know everything. So don’t behave as if you do!

And when you ask questions, listen to the answers. While not every piece of advice you’ll be given will be good advice, it’s important to take what others who are more experienced have to say into consideration. Listen to criticism, too, and use it to become a better nurse.   

woman pondering about to ask a question new grad nurses ask questions

Learn to Prioritize

One of the biggest challenges for many new nurses is trying to complete a seemingly endless list of tasks throughout the course of a single shift. Nursing is a hectic and fast-paced job, and if you don’t know how to prioritize, you’ll likely end up feeling completely overwhelmed. 

No matter what nursing field you are in, you’ll need to develop strong skills for prioritization. Each shift, you’ll likely be pulled in several different directions and have multiple objectives that need to be accomplished before you clock out for the day. It’s up to you to figure out which tasks are most important and require your immediate attention versus which ones can wait until later in the day. 

Keep in mind that prioritizing doesn’t mean deciding which tasks you’ll complete and which ones you’ll ignore. In nursing, everything on your daily to-do list typically needs to be done. Figuring out which ones are most important and taking care of them first lessens your stress and enables you to get the big things out of the way before tackling the smaller tasks. 

Chart Everything

When you were in nursing school, you probably heard something along the lines of “if you didn’t chart it, it didn’t happen.”

There’s a big reason why the importance of charting was drilled into you when you were a student. While it may have seemed excessive and, frankly, annoying while you were in school, it’s vital in the real world.

As a nurse, you’ll likely be working with several patients each day. Within the course of a single month, you could care for hundreds of different people. No matter how good your memory is, it’s impossible to remember what you did for each patient and when you did it. This becomes a huge problem, of course, when you are asked for details regarding something that happened several weeks—or even months—ago!

Developing strong charting habits should be one of your first priorities as a new nurse. Get in the habit of charting everything, even if it doesn’t seem important. It’s better to have too much documentation rather than not enough. 

pen and notepad on white table new grad nurses charting is important

Start with the Right Nursing Gear

Before you start your first nursing job, make sure you have the right gear. Purchase high-quality scrubs for women and cute scrub jackets so you’ll look and feel great while on the job. Invest in some good, supportive nursing shoes, too! 

It’s also smart to make sure you have a good quality stethoscope, penlight, and other nursing supplies. Being unprepared is not the way you want to start your career, so make sure you have everything you need before your first shift. 

Never Stop Learning

Earning your degree and becoming a licensed nurse doesn’t mean the learning stops. As a recent grad, you truly only know the bare minimum of how to do your job. To become an excellent nurse, you need to be constantly learning and advancing your skills. 

Keep in mind, too, the medical field is constantly changing. While you may have the most up-to-date knowledge when you start your first job, that knowledge could be outdated within just a few years. One of the most important tips for advancing your nursing career is to always, always keep learning. Plus, participating in ongoing education is likely a requirement of your employment.  

Being a nurse is a lot of hard work, and it can be incredibly overwhelming for recent grads. With dedication and perseverance, though, you can learn the ropes and become an excellent nurse. Take a deep breath and follow the tips listed above, and you will be well on your way to starting your career off on the right foot. 

Create a free Trusted for New Grads profile to help you get on your way to becoming a top-performing new grad nurse. 

Adela Ellis, RN

Adela Ellis, RN is a full-time nurse and part-time ambassador for Infinity Scrubs. Adela attended the University of Arizona and has been a travel nurse for the last 6 years. She enjoys working with different doctors, nurses, and patients from all over the country and blogging about her experiences. In her free time, she loves true-crime podcasts and cooking for friends and family.

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