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A letter to my former self (the new nurse)

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Dear Me:

I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked but I thought I’d check in on ya and see how you are doing? I see your head is still circling after finishing nursing school. Yeah, I know, it still seems like a dream… but guess what you did it! You graduated.

Now on to the NCLEX (boards).

While you’re busy studying for that I know you’ve started working as a Graduate Nurse at the bedside. Just when you thought you were done with that ‘learning’ stuff huh? Yeah, you thought nursing school was tough? Now you have to figure out how to survive and eventually thrive as an independent nurse!

Don’t worry, we have all shared the same feeling: Being sure that sooner or later someone was gonna notice that you had no clue what you were doing!

It’s OK. We’ve all been there.

I thought I’d pass on some tips and words of wisdom for you during those first few years, to help you through the tough spots. Yes, you read that right. I said the first few years. It takes, at the very least, a full year to just get comfortable in your new ‘nurse’ skin. It’s only after another year of feeling comfortable in that skin that you finally shake those jitters.

Sorry. I promise it does get better.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • It’s OK to be scared: We all were and still are to some degree. Remember, not everyone can do this job.
  • You are not expected to know everything: Some of us have been doing this for decades, and we still don’t know everything!
  • It’s OK to ask questions: the minute you stop asking questions is when we get worried.
  • Stop beating yourself up over every mistake : we all make mistakes, and we all continue to make more. The key is to learn from them.
  • Yes, things really do move that fast at the bedside: we all learned to walk first, then run. So will you.
  • Your first patient death will shake you up: trust me. And there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Your first code will scare the living daylights out of you : you’ll understand it better once you experience it first hand.
  • Every time you want to ‘run’ force yourself to walk: hurrying through a task will only increase your chances for making a mistake.
  • Take the time to learn everything by the numbers, before you decide to adopt a shortcut: just trust me on this one.
  • Learn the difference between confidence and arrogance: it will save lives.
  • Stop dwelling on how fast you do things: yes, we all did things that slow when we started! Efficiency comes after accuracy.
  • Never, ever, ever, ever apologize for calling a physician about your patient : even at 3AM.
  • Don’t expect respect until it is earned. You’ve earned the right to be here, now earn the respect to stay.
  • No matter where the job takes you, there will always be somebody wanting to break you down: don’t let them infect you.

And last, but surely not least. You have entered into one of the most awesome professions around. Be sure to pass on your knowledge, your skill and your passion to those who follow. It’s our job to erase the old urban legend of nurses eating their young.

Best of luck to you on your journey and your career. You are in for a wild ride!

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