Nursing: 5 things I wish I knew when I graduated

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Nursing school was TOUGH. To this day, I still have flashbacks of panicked moments during those four overwhelming years of assignments and clinicals. Needless to say, I looked forward to graduation day and the pinning ceremony with relish. (I may or may not have drawn a smiley face with red heart eyes on the calendar…)

Graduation day went off without a hitch, and then….reality hit. And reality bites. If you’re getting ready to graduate, read these 5 things to prepare yourself for life as a nurse after graduation.

Nursing: 5 things I wish I knew when I graduated

1. Cultivate a good sense of humor.

I remember asking one of my instructors if being an actual nurse was easier than being a student nurse. She replied “Yes, but it’s just an easier kind of hard.”

Far from the mirage of halos and angel wings, nursing can be a dirty, stinky, back-breaking profession. You will encounter a lot of unhappy people who don’t like you or don’t like what you’re doing to them, and it will wear on you. Finding the funny in the daily grind can ease stress tremendously!

2. Prioritize your own health.

Since being a nurse is hard work, be proactive with handling your physical, emotional and mental states. Practice back safety, needle safety and equipment safety. Maintain a healthy diet. Exercise. Participate in hobbies or activities unrelated to work. Learn to let go of anger, bitterness and hate.

All of these are standard suggestions for improving health, but nurses seem to be the worst about following the advice that we give everyone else!

3. Pay for personal liability insurance.

Protect your assets and your license by having personal liability insurance separate from anything offered to you through your employer. You need separate insurance because it is possible that your employer could sue you, and in that case, their liability insurance would probably not cover you. Several reasonable plans exist for nurses specifically; ask your peers what plans they use or inquire with your state board of nursing for recommendations.

4. Use documentation for more than just patient care.

Written communication with management staff is a powerful tool. Not only can written notes of encouragement or praise for your coworkers boost morale, but documentation of conflicts or questionable events can sometimes protect you from dismissal or lawsuits.

Do not be afraid to document instances of bullying and harrassment from anyone, physicians included. Learn from the occurrences, but do not let them continue without notifying the appropriate people in writing.

5. Allow your nursing passions to evolve.

If you find that you do not like your current specialty, try another. You may be surprised. I hated my pediatric rotation in school and set off into a happy career of adult critical care nursing. Three years later, I applied for a job in a NICU for no other reason than the children’s hospital was the best place to work in town. That decision was the best thing I’ve ever done in my career. Remember, nursing takes on different characteristics with each specialty, and you may have to search for a while to find your niche.

And while we’re on the subject of specialties, do not feel obligated to do a year in MedSurg before anything else. If you have a passion for a specific specialty right out of school, pursue your current passion first.

Getting ready to graduate? Which piece of advice will you take to heart? If you’re a nursing veteran, what other advice would you give to new grads? Share with us in the comments!

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Jessica Ellis

With experience in multiple specialties such as ER, ICU, CVICU, PACU, NICU and case management, Jessica has also been a key contributor for several of the world’s leading healthcare publishers. Jessica has been certified in CPR, BLS Instructor, PHTLS, ACLS, TNCC, CFRN, NRP, PALS and CPS. She previously functioned as an editor and contributor for, and an author/editor of numerous online nursing CEU courses for Coursepark. Jessica accepts ongoing professional nursing writing contracts for both authoring and editing from major textbook and online education publishers internationally.

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7 Responses to Nursing: 5 things I wish I knew when I graduated

    • nancystl

      I just graduated with my BSN last month. What I am seeing is that you get quicker interviews with the large hospital systems if you were already employed by them in some capacity even if it’s dietary. There is more hesitation to hire new graduates and start them as graduate nurses until they pass their NCLEX. May hospitals in my area want you to pass before your first day on their payroll. Fortunately, I’ve already taken and passes the NCLEX and will start my new job in a couple of weeks.


      Yes there is. It depends where you live. Also, hospital etc may be short, but they will not hire and work short. This is not a nursing shortage..


    I totally disagree with the comment of not working in med-surg first. Working there gives the experience of a lot of situations. I am so glad i was in med-surg for 3 years when I was told to go to PCCU and telementry! After classes they gave I did learn to love it but my prior experience REALLY helped!

  2. JerZFox RN

    I’ve been saying that for years! Anyone who believes there’s a nursing shortage also believes in the existence of unicorns.

  3. RNUte

    I, on the other hand, would have to agree with the theory of needing a year in med-surg. I am now an instructor and urge my students to do what they are passionate about. That is the beauty of this profession. I worked in med surg when I graduated and began to question why I had decided to be a nurse, I hated it so bad. Then I went to the operating room and found I absolutely loved what I did. I LOVE teaching and I make sure they come out of clinical knowing that they will find something they love and most importantly, how significant #1 is: a sense of humor is a must! Without it, burn out is eminent!

  4. Ahnurse

    I am having a hard time choosing between applying for LPN or RN. I have been told by LPN’s that they are glad they chose to do that first. Others tell me go straight for RN. I know that I eventually want to be a RN, but not quite sure which to go for first. What is your advice?