Initial Struggles as a New Nurse and How to Overcome Them

  • 14 December, 2022

You did it! You overcame nursing school, passed your NCLEX with flying colors, and have finally gained your sought-after credentials. You rejoice in hearing your name followed by "RN" and are looking forward to initiating your upcoming career. Shortly after, you swiftly become overtaken with emotions that you had yet to anticipate. While this is hands down an incredibly exciting time in your life, it is imperative to be aware ahead of time of the struggles that can come with the first year as a registered nurse. It may not be rainbows and butterflies in the very beginning as you work through the growing pains of starting a brand new job, but take heart knowing that this too shall pass and you will come out better and more equipped than before! Here are some of the initial struggles you may face as a brand-new nurse fresh out of the gate and what you can do to overcome them for good.

Initial Struggles as a New Nurse and How to Overcome Them

In this Blog,

Initial Struggles as a New Nurse and How to Overcome Them:

1. Imposter syndrome

An initial battle you may face in the early days as a nurse is something called "imposter syndrome," feeling that you are not adequately cut out for the job or incapable of taking on the responsibilities of a registered nurse. This, while an uncomfortable sensation to experience, is incredibly normal and will dissipate as time progresses. Think of it like this: when you first are learning to ride a bike, you rely on your training wheels to keep you upright, but the moment they are removed, there is a sense of uneasiness and slight panic as you learn to navigate a new terrain without the assistance that was previously provided. Starting a new job as a brand-new nurse is likely to be a similar phenomenon. Just keep pedaling and you will eventually forget that you ever needed the training wheels to start with.

I still remember the first time I walked into a patient's room and said, "I'll be your nurse today," as opposed to the familiar phrase: "I'll be your student nurse today." It is easy to not feel "ready" or get caught comparing yourself to seasoned nurses. However, I am here to tell you that this does slowly subside with time as you get into the swing of things and gain more confidence in your new role.

In the beginning, this can be easier said than done, so when you start to experience feelings of incompetence, here are some tips you can utilize to help keep them at bay:

  • Stop and breathe: Figure out why exactly you are feeling this way. Is there a medication you have to give that you are unfamiliar with? Do you need to perform a task that you have yet to do on a real patient? Do you have to call the provider for the first time? First, identify what is causing the specific fear and address it. After doing so, you can decipher how to act appropriately. Most often, it is something brand new that is causing some anxiety or uneasiness.
  • Ask for help: The best way to overcome these scenarios is to ask for some assistance! Find a coworker you feel comfortable with, and if you have yet to do so, ask your charge nurse, as it is their responsibility and job to help the floor nurses.
  • Look it up beforehand: If you are administering a new medication, take the time to look it up so that you know how to administer the drug before you give it to the patient and know the reasons for doing so. If you are starting an IV for the first time, walk through the steps outside the room and look up the hospital protocol so you feel more at ease.

It can feel lonesome and burdensome, especially in those first few months, but I promise the imposter syndrome does not last forever!

2. Being afraid to ask for help

Piggybacking off of the first point, asking for help when you are brand new can be really intimidating. The hope is that your coworkers will be friendly and willing to provide a helping hand when you need it, but this is not always the case, unfortunately. In my very first nursing job, there were many nurses who wanted nothing to do with me, which, as you can imagine, added to the baseline level of stress I was already experiencing. However, you can usually gauge this pretty early on and figure out who will be willing to encourage and support you and who you should initially avoid. I struggled with this when I was working with individuals who weren't as helpful, but when it comes down to it, you are there to take care of patients, not make friends, so you have to do what you need to do to get the job done.

A few ways to overcome the fear of asking someone else for help:

  • Remember that if there is an urgent need, safety is always most important! Even if it feels intimidating, always ask for help when you need it if a patient is going to be put in danger if you decide not to.
  • Try to find someone who is more receptive, if at all possible, to provide support when you need it. Create bonds with these individuals so that you know you have an ally in times of need.
  • Ask the charge or supervisor if no one is willing to help you since they are required to support you!
  • If you are not working in a supportive environment and it is affecting other aspects of your life, do not be afraid to look for a new job. You deserve to be treated with respect!

3. Pre-shift stress

Another struggle that seems to be prevalent as a novice nurse is experiencing pre-shift jitters. You may find yourself nervous about what to expect, what patients you'll end up with, or even which nurses you'll be working with during your shift. This can become almost debilitating, especially if you become affected on your days off. Focusing on self-care before your shifts can help settle any nerves.

Some actions to implement that incorporate self-care to combat these feelings include:

  • Eating a nourishing meal before your shift
  • Getting in some form of exercise or movement to boost your mood
  • Listening to some of your favorite music while you are getting ready
  • Taking some time for yourself and avoiding being rushed out the door
  • Getting to work with enough time to prepare and look up any necessary details regarding your patients

With time, the amount of anxiety experienced prior to your shifts will hopefully decrease, but never forget to focus on yourself before work and on days off!

4. Exhaustion

Nursing school is exhausting, but there is a new level of exhaustion when it comes to practicing as an RN. This will be something you have yet to experience until you are in the thick of it and it is important to be aware ahead of time so that you can gear up to prepare to combat it effectively.

My first stretch of three shifts in a row had me down for the count on my days off-I remember feeling like I had gotten hit by a truck. I was mentally and physically drained. You are having to work essentially twice as hard as a nurse who has been in the workplace for several years as you are constantly double and triple checking what you're doing and learning as you go, so you become overstimulated by every detail you are responsible for keeping track of. The field of nursing is definitely not for the faint of heart! It takes a lot of dedication, commitment, and energy to do what is expected. While it may not be completely unavoidable to bypass any form of exhaustion, there are some ways to at least help keep it at bay, especially during the first year.

Some tips to deal with fatigue:

  • Exercise: Be sure to get in some movement on your days off, whether just a walk in the park or some yoga in your living room to get your blood flowing and wake you up!
  • Sleep: Try to get enough sleep and focus on sleep hygiene. Of course, getting enough sleep will help with the sheer levels of exhaustion felt after a shift. Try to get into bed at a reasonable hour and avoid scrolling through your phone for hours before you fall asleep. Focusing on a consistent sleep routine (going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, putting your phone away at least 30 minutes before bed, meditation, creating a restful environment to sleep in, etc.) can make a drastic difference in the quality of sleep, leading to feeling more rested the next day.
  • Rest: Of course, if you are feeling run down or exhausted even after getting a night of good sleep, don't be afraid to listen to your body and allow yourself to rest. It's okay to say no to activities on your days off and do what is best for you. Sometimes you just need a day where you stay in your comfy clothes and don't leave the house. It's all about balance!
  • Be around people you love: Being a nurse can take a toll on your emotional well-being. You are helping individuals who are hurt or unwell, and depending on the field in which you work, there can be some heartache that comes along with it. Some days you may experience emotional exhaustion more so than physical, and surrounding yourself with friends and family can bring a helpful boost to your emotional energy. Engaging in activities that you enjoy can also increase "happy hormone" production and keep your spirits high. Being able to openly express how you're feeling can also help. Sometimes simply talking through things with a fellow coworker or someone who knows what you're going through can lighten your emotional load.

Seeking therapy can also be beneficial if you find that it is difficult to leave your emotions at work or you are unable to function effectively when you are at home. Be in tune with your body and emotions so that you can make decisions that will benefit you in your work/home life balance.

As if nursing school wasn't challenging enough, it is almost inevitable to bypass any struggles during your first year as a registered nurse. While these growing pains won't last forever, it is in your best interest to pay attention to your specific needs and act upon them appropriately so they do not become all-consuming. Remember to prioritize your self-care and listen to your intuition!

EduMind's comprehensive NCLEX-RN® exam review course has been created by nursing experts to provide you with what you need to pass your nursing exam! Register today or contact us to learn more!

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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