What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Nursing

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10 things I wish I knew before I started Nursing

You go through Nursing school believing you’ve got it all figured out.


You think you know everything there is to know, and fully believe you’re prepared for anything Nursing will throw at you. After all, you’ve done the degree, and studied hard—so how hard can it be?




Here are a few things that I’ve learned about Nursing that I wish I’d known that first day.


  1. Your first year as a Nurse is like a crash-course in life.

I don’t think I ever learned so much as I did in my first year of Nursing. Sure, Nursing school and Clinical gave us a taste of what’s to come, but it was nothing compared to the real deal.


All of a sudden you’re it! You have to give out all the medications, you have to deal with family members.


You have to do all the care plans, assess all your patients, talk to the Doctors, make sure your patients get the right diet, make sure their ADL’s are done, look at their pathology, do their discharges, and give handover to the next shift…


The list goes on.


Where I had previously complained about clinicals and how hard they were, all at once it hit me how much responsibility was on my own shoulders. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it, but it’s going to be one of the most stressful times in your life—or at least it was for me.


On the bright side, it gets better. Every shift gets that little bit easier. Bit by bit, every day you’re getting better, and learning new ways of coping.


I’m not saying this to scare you off. I’m bringing this up now because the first year as a Nurse can make or break you. But you just have to work through it. It’s hard for everyone in the beginning, and it’d be a shame to lose a good Nurse in your first year of Nursing because you didn’t think you could do it.


So stick with it. It gets better.


  1. You’re going to make mistakes.

Scary thought isn’t it? But there’s not a Nurse out there that hasn’t made a mistake in some way.


The most important thing is how you react to it. Own up to it, tell your charge Nurse, learn from it, and work hard to never do it again.


You’ll probably make a lot of mistakes in your first year as a Nurse—so just make sure they’re not the big ones.


  1. Shift work will mess with you.

Not only will your body not know what’s going or what time it is, but you also probably won’t be seeing your family as much.


I remember being put on all afternoons for weeks in my first year, and I didn’t see my husband at all. It hit me hard. I felt depressed, isolated, and trapped. As a New Grad you generally get what you’re given as far as rosters go; you don’t get a lot of choice.


But this also gets better. Once you’ve found your feet and you’re established in one place you’ll get more say as far as your roster goes.


Unfortunately though, if you’re a New Grad you tend to get the shifts that no one else wants. It’s like an initiation process we all have to go through.


But just remember—we’ve all been through it. We’ll all go through it. So you’ve got people who understand what you’re going through, who you can talk to.


  1. You’ll meet Nurses who are less than supportive.

Hard to imagine right?


But the truth is there are Nurses out there who just can’t wait for you to mess up so that they can point it out to you. They think they know best.


My advice is to not take notice of these people. Their behaviour is a reflection of themselves, not you, so all you can do is shake it off, and keep on with your job.


But be aware that they’re out there, ‘cause they’ll creep up on you, and all of a sudden you’re crying in the break room, thinking you’re a bad Nurse because you didn’t update the whiteboard.


But it’s not you—it’s them. You’re doing great.


  1. Ask for help. Ask questions. It’s okay.

Always, always ask for help or clarification if you’re unsure. No one will think any less of you.


In fact, I feel more confident with the students or New Grads who ask me lots of questions rather than the ones who seem to think they know everything, or are too scared to ask questions.


I still ask questions! ALL THE TIME. I double-check and triple-check with my colleagues; it doesn’t hurt anyone, and it helps us learn.


So asking questions, asking how to do things, will help you become a better Nurse.


  1. You know all that cool stuff you learned in Nursing School? Yeah, that’s not all you’ll be doing.

Nursing can at times be a little bit glorified.


Don’t get me wrong, we should be treated as the heroes that we are ‘cause we literally save lives, every single day. But once you become a Nurse, you’ll find yourself putting on lots of different job hats.


You’ll be the cleaner, the social worker, the friend who lends a shoulder to cry on. You’ll be the dietitian, the chef, the case manager; the family mediator, electrician, and secretary.


You name it, and once you become a Nurse, you’ll be it.


So Nursing isn’t just about saving lives, or doing all that high-tech stuff. A lot of the time it’s filling all these roles to better make your patients feel safe, secure, and cared for.


And that’s still pretty cool.


  1. Eat breakfast, and bring a lunch that’s quick and easy to prepare.

When I first started Nursing I barely took a break. I was always worried that I’d missed something,  and would sacrifice my lunch break to double-check that all my patients were okay, and that my paperwork was all up to date. Then I’d drive home and realise I hadn’t eaten all day!


I’ve always been a breakfast kinda gal, but when I started Nursing I made sure that I ate a really good breakfast. I wouldn’t know if I’d even get the chance to have a lunch break that day.


So if breakfast is the only meal you have, make sure it’s a good one.


For those times when I would sneak in a lunch break, I’d always make sure it was something quick and easy to prepare. A 10-minute lunch break is better than none!


And make sure that you get plenty of water during your shift. You’ll feel ratshit if you don’t drink any water—trust me.


  1. Wear the good, expensive, orthotic, and ugly shoes. Your legs and feet will thank you.

I never knew I could appreciate comfortable shoes as much as I do know.


As a new Nurse, the last thing you want to spend $200 dollars on is a pair of butt-ugly shoes. But trust me—it will be worth it. Those shoes will save your life on those long 12-hour shifts.


And it’s not just your feet and legs that will thank you, your back will too.


The number one investment a Nurse can make is in a good pair of shoes. Don’t even worry about how they look. If they feel like you’re walking a cloud, they’re worth their weight in gold.


  1. The studying doesn’t stop when you finish Nursing School.

As Nurses, we commit to a life-long career of studying and keeping up-to-date with the latest evidence-based practice. Yay!


So when you finish Nursing school and think you’re never going to study again—hah! You’re wrong. Completely wrong. There’s always be more studying to be done.


Once you settle into an area, there will be more and more specialised studying for you to do so you can become really good in that area. It makes sense though; you can’t be an expert at everything once you finish Nursing school. You’re expected to know a little about everything.


So you might say that the real studying comes after you’ve finished school.  


  1. Don’t take work home.

When I first started Nursing, boy, did I overthink things.


I took work home with me. I even remember dreaming about medication charts and fluid balance charts. It was awful.


With time I learned to let go of work when I stepped out of the hospital or clocked off. Remember that Nursing is 24-hour care, so once you’ve handed over care to the next shift, they’re now their patient for the next 8-12 hours.


Try not to dwell on your shift too much. One thing you can do is create a “going home routine”, and give yourself a repeatable process that tells your brain you’ve finished, that signals the end of your shift, and helps you put things aside until you come back.


It can include things like:

  • Taking a moment to think about your day
  • Acknowledging one thing that was difficult—then let it go. It happened, and you did the best you could
  • Consider three things that went well
  • Check on your colleagues before you leave. Are they okay?
  • Ask yourself, are you okay? Your senior team are there to support you


Now switch your attention to home. It’s time to rest, recharge, and do it all again tomorrow.



While I wish I could go back in time and tell myself all these things, well… I can’t.


But all of this has led me to where I am today. So what I can do is put this out there, so any new Nurses like you reading this now can get a heads-up that there are some things you might not know.


But you will. You’ll learn. You’ll get better. And then you’ll be able to tell new Nurses what you wish you’d known when you first started Nursing, so they can be that little bit more prepared for what comes next.


Nurse Jenny



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Jenny, RN is a Registered Nurse working in Sydney Australia. She received her degree in 2013 in Sydney as an international student from Sweden and graduated with a Distinction. She has a passion for Nursing and helping other Nurses and student Nurses in the field, looking at life from the positive side and always giving back where possible. She is the Founder of Bjorn Hall Stethoscopes, a company she created when she saw a need for more personality in the workplace.

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