Encountered Struggles: The First Year as a Registered Nurse

  • 27 June, 2022

There will inevitably be a large learning curve during the very first year of practicing as a registered nurse. Up until this point in time, you have never been more than a student nurse, and with that comes additional pressure and responsibility. To say that I learned a lot during my initial year as a registered nurse would be a drastic understatement, but with learning also comes struggle. Here is a snapshot into the various hardships I faced during my first year as an RN and the actions I utilized to overcome them.

Encountered Struggles: The First Year as a Registered Nurse

You learn about this in school, and while it seems that this may only occur in movies, unfortunately, it still exists in some workplaces. If you happen to be unfamiliar with the concept, lateral violence is really just a fancy term for bullying and can also be described as "nurses eating their young." Despite it being the 21st century, this is still present and can be anxiety-inducing, to say the least, especially as a brand-new nurse.

In my first position as a medical-surgical nurse, I chose a role that did not involve a new nurse residency program. In other words, I trained for about a month and some change before getting released to practice on my own. Having been the only new nurse on the unit at the time, my nerves were already soaring. On top of this, there were a handful of nurses that were not interested in helping out the "baby nurse." These nurses will pay no attention to you, avoid offering their help, and will more or less pretend that you do not exist. I was quite surprised to experience this, given that the field of nursing is designed to assist others.

While I truly hope that this will not be the case for anyone reading this right now, there are some ways to counteract and cope with the situation if you find yourself caught in it.

  1. Find and become buddies with the friendly nurses: there are always nurses who are willing to help and will take you under their wing. Cling to them and they will become a resource in good times and bad.
  2. Don't take it personally: this was a hard pill for me to swallow as a natural people-pleaser. However, remember that their unkind behavior is a direct reflection of them and has nothing to do with you.
  3. Give it time: eventually they may come around. Most of the nurses who originally treated me in this fashion started to accept and treat me better as time progressed. It was almost as if I had to "prove" that I was capable of fulfilling my duties as a nurse. You do not have to prove anything to anyone, but keep in mind that those who partake in behaviors such as this tend to ease up with time. If not, it is their loss, not yours.
  4. Stay in your own lane: you have enough on your plate, so do not fall into the trap of these petty games. Focus on yourself, your patients, and those who are willing to help.

2. Anxiety before shifts

Having experienced nerves prior to clinical shifts in nursing school, I had a gut feeling that the same type of pre-shift anxiety would continue to plague me once I began practicing. There is a drastic difference between practicing under someone else's license and becoming fully responsible of your own, which can be a daunting notion to grasp. I experienced feelings of doubt and "imposter syndrome" in the beginning stages of my nursing career, as it almost didn't feel quite real, and I was not 100% confident in my abilities. These are completely normal emotions to encounter, however, and while it may feel all-consuming and overwhelming in the moment, they do decrease with time as you gain more experience under your belt.

Helpful strategies I utilized to combat this feeling included various forms of self-care:

  • Listening to my favorite music or podcast on my way to work
  • Waking up early enough to take some time for myself and avoid feeling rushed before each shift
  • Packing healthy foods and snacks to eat throughout the day
  • Making sure to move my body in some way to release any built-up tension from the day following each shift

Self-care on your off days is also vital! Being sure not to put your physical or mental health on the back burner is crucial in the field of nursing.

3. Trying to remain in a field I knew I did not enjoy

I quickly realized that 12-hour hospital shifts were not for me. As an extroverted introvert but a true introvert at my core, I would come home absolutely exhausted after a 13-14-hour day. Given that I did not live in the same city as my workplace, I was leaving for work around 6:15 in the morning and would not get home until after 8 pm. Repeating this process 3-4 days in a row had me completely depleted by the time I reached a day off. Additionally, the long hours at work were more stressful than enjoyable, and I realized that I was burning out faster than I could recoup.

You may be offered advice to start off in med/surg to gain more experience, and while I do not regret dipping my toes in the water, just know that this does not have to be the case and you can really start off in just about any field you desire. If you are adamant against starting off in the medical surgical field, don't be afraid to go after what your heart is set on.

Another frequently spewed piece of advice that tends to re-circulate is to "stick with it." While there may be some truth to this, I for the most part could not disagree more. In essence, this is usually directed at new nurses when they enter the field and are experiencing hardship. Yes, there will be some barriers to maneuver as a new practicing nurse, and it may feel overwhelming in the beginning, but the fact of the matter is, if that feeling does not improve with time or even worsens, it is time to say goodbye. For months, I tried to tell myself that my work situation would improve, that my anxiety would lessen, that eventually I would enjoy what I was doing-but month after month, it seemed to only escalate more until I was sacrificing my mental health for a job that could replace me in a heartbeat.

My best piece of advice would be to listen to your intuition, stay in tune with yourself and your emotions, and do not stay in a role that is sucking the life out of you. I promise you, it is not worth it and you can and will find something that is better suited. I remained in my first role for seven months, and while even that was too long, I was happy that I was able to drown out the noise of other people trying to tell me to "stick it out" because I ultimately valued my own health more than a job.

I have been a nurse for four years and have already jumped around to three different fields of nursing-you are allowed to change your mind, and you do not need to remain where you are if you are unhappy, ever. Choose what feels right for you, and don't be hesitant to experiment; there is a wide range of options to choose from in the field of nursing!

4. Burnout

Piggybacking off of my last two points is the all-encompassing notion of burnout. It is extremely common as a brand-new nurse to experience this to some degree, even if you enjoy the field you are in. You are having to work twice as hard as a seasoned nurse, find your groove, and knead out the kinks of no longer being the student nurse. This is hard! It is hard no matter where you go, and it can eat you alive if you are not prepared to experience it or don't know how to cope.

Once again, be sure that you are in a field of work that you actually enjoy, as the burnout will come at a much faster pace than if you are working somewhere you do not have a passion for. In other words, as stated previously, do not be fearful in deciding to make a career change if you know it is not a good fit. You are allowed to try new things, and you do not need anyone else's permission but your own to make that decision.

Also, as mentioned earlier, make sure that you have a solid routine set in place for your own self-care. Take time before and after your shifts to recenter yourself; take your breaks throughout the day; stay hydrated; and eat your lunch. I cannot tell you how many shifts I experienced where I never used the restroom and did not get to eat lunch until 4pm-do not allow this to happen! Protect yourself, your rights, and your basic needs at all costs. You have to be able to take care of yourself before you can be expected to take care of anyone else.

These two aspects combined can help in diminishing that initial onset of burnout as you navigate the experiences of a novice nurse.

Every new nurse will encounter the world of nursing in a different way-some will have more highs, while others may experience more lows, depending on the situation they are in. The bottom line is that there are bound to be some initial struggles with this new chapter, but knowing how to circumvent them appropriately and successfully will improve your overall quality of life in and out of the workplace. Remember, you are in control of your nursing license and what you do with it-do not remain stagnant if you dislike where you are because the opportunities are endless!

Are you ready to take on the challenge of becoming a licensed nurse? Boost your chances of exam day success with EduMind's NCLEX-RN® exam review course! We look forward to helping you pursue your career goals and aspirations.

About the Author: Kelsey Mangan

Kelsey Mangan is a registered nurse, who graduated from Linfield College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and minor in education. She is a health and wellness advocate, writer, wife, and a new mama to baby Paisley. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time with friends and family, finding binge-worthy shows on Netflix, and snuggling with her sweet daughter.

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