Being a new nurse – how it was then

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I remember being a student nurse – I studied at the University of Sydney and we had a number of clinical placements in a wide range of health care facilities.

I was always so scared before my placements, I’m not sure why, I would prepare myself by researching practice as much as I could and I have always had a strong sense of purpose about why I studied nursing.

Yet I was scared. I would spend a lot of time on my first days in a new ward observing the practices of the registered nurse I had been paired with and in down times when the registered nurse would be completing their charts or talking to colleagues I would deliberately position myself as far away from the resus trolley as possible … just in case something happened and I would have to push the trolley, that seemed like a HUGE responsibility.

When I finally finished uni and got my first job as an RN (or Real Nurse!), I completed my new graduate program at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. My first shift was okay. I was very much supported by all the nurses working with me and felt I was doing really well my first week.

That was, until one”funny” nurse asked me to go and pick up a pair of fallopian tubes from the steriliser. I guess the worst thing about that story is that I trotted off to find the fallopian tubes!

I think we as nurses have a responsibility to offer support and education and to act as preceptors for student and junior nurses. It can be challenging at times due our heavy workloads and the high acuity of patients but it is important that we take our role as educators for future nurses seriously.

Do you have any stories about your trials and triumphs as student nurse or new graduate? Or how about any thoughts about what it is like to teach or precept other nurses?

11 COMMENTS

  1. Oh the memories! Some so great, others not so. I was in the second university intake and were made well aware that we had not “suffered” enough to be an RN (read “Real Nurse”) and that by the time we had completed our first year of nursing we would have suffered plenty!!
    In the end we did not “suffer”, indeed most of us won over the respect of our colleague’s and learned to respect them. The few that did not “come round” …. well they were never going to so really we just had to get on and do the best job we knew how, and avoid these ‘non-believers’ as much as possible.
    I often look at the ‘new-grads’ now and wonder if anything has changed as they all seem to have the same stories of rudeness and ignorance that we experienced in the 1980’s.
    Horizontal violence- we all learn about it but it just does not seem to stop!
    Just because it was done to you does not make it right- quite the opposite! Shouldn’t we be encouraging these ‘kids’? Are they not our future? If we kill them all off how on earth can we reject honestly these ridiculous ideas to supplement our dwindling numbers with untrained AINs??? We are our own worst enemy!! Please- don’t be so quick with that judgement and ‘teach- don’t criticise. Remember we were all “hopeless” once.

  2. I think there is less bullying now. I work in a busy tertiary hospital that depends on a rotation of New grad RNs to staff the ward safely. The ward is a maternity ward with gynaecology patients so the blend of midwives, student midwives, EENs and New Grad RNs is a daily occurance. I have found over the last 12 months the rotating RNs to be keen to learn and pick up the skills quickly. At the end of the placement they are confident in their role and most are looking forward to becoming midwives. The duties on this ward gives them specialist skills in gynae areas especially female catheterisation. The only problems we have are when the RN may become confused about his/her role and may occassionally want to perform midwifery only duties, but this does not happen that often. I remember when the maternity wards were only staffed by midwives and student midwives when we had more midwives wanting to work. A lot of them have retired now or left the workforce. This relatively new opportunity for RNs to work in maternity is a great one for all.

  3. I think this case, not only apply to new grad, but also sometimes being experienced by any nurse who are new to a certain area wheteher new grad or not.. I’ve nursing for quite a long while and been to different areas of nursing and as a starter, your colleague can be as welcoming as ever but can be as horrible as you can imagine. I guess, the best thing to do is show them what you got by performing your job well. If they try to ask you to get something, best thing to say is ask them to get it fisrt so you know next time. It just occur to my mind, maybe the best reply to the falllopian tubes order would be “I wiill get you a pair of fallopian tubes if you show me where your ovaries are.” Hope it make you smile.

  4. MelCB wrote:
    Some so great, others not so. I was in the second university intake and were made well aware that we had not “suffered” enough to be an RN (read “Real Nurse”) and that by the time we had completed our first year of nursing we would have suffered plenty!!
    In the end we did not “suffer”, indeed most of us won over the respect of our colleague’s and learned to respect them. The few that did not “come round” …. well they were never going to so really we just had to get on and do the best job we knew how, and avoid these ‘non-believers’ as much as possible.
    I often look at the ‘new-grads’ now and wonder if anything has changed as they all seem to have the same stories of rudeness and ignorance that we experienced in the 1980’s.
    Horizontal violence- we all learn about it but it just does not seem to stop!
    Just because it was done to you does not make it right- quite the opposite! Shouldn’t we be encouraging these ‘kids’? Are they not our future? If we kill them all off how on earth can we reject honestly these ridiculous ideas to supplement our dwindling numbers with untrained AINs??? We are our own worst enemy!! Please- don’t be so quick with that judgement and ‘teach- don’t criticise. Remember we were all “hopeless” once.

  5. I agree with you MelCB. The rudeness seemed to be there because people are allowing it. Why do we have to always prove ourselves to this horrible,unsupportive individuals. I think the best thing that new grad or starters can do is report them to their facilitator and if the facilitator is not doing anything, tell that concerned nurse that you dont need to be treated this way…maybe they,too, have been treated badly but this is the time to cut the chain and be supportive. Be honest with your feelings and say it with grace.

  6. You can have it all I also have been very fortunate in my career, trained in the hospital system, many years ago, currently work in mental health and have my own practice as a family therapist. I have worked as a clinical facilitator and loved it, yes there were some rude rn’s, unfortunatley that is probably so in every profession. I have worked with handicapped children, I have worked on Palm Island, I did midifery in the UK. Then worked as a midwife here for 10 years. I have raised 4 children who are now all professinals themselves. I have worked in a very wide variety of settings. I personally think it is the best career a person can have, obviously I am biased.
    I was born with a talipes so had a lot to do with nurses as a child, wanted to be a nurse from the age of 8, was often told it would not be possible, which of course made me very determined. So for the new grads don;t be deterred by a few whingers, make your life what you want it to be.

  7. the need to help student nurses is vital… Im a new EEN currently doing my RNs at uni. However, training as an EEN, i had the oppotunity to be paid while working in the hospital setting as my training. Some of the nurses treated me badly, some treated me very well. But i’ll unfortunetly always remember the moments i wanted to give up because i was treated with such disrespect. And now that im an EEN, i treat the nursing students and TENs with more respect than i ever had when i was training because when it comes down to it……nursing is dam hard. and what makes it harder for students is the lack of support. we need to remember, allllll nurses abroad, that you and i once were student nurses. u and i once felt inferior to the others….and now u and i are qualified health workers, here to help others…why not help our own?!

  8. Attitude is what it takes The right attitude by all concerned is what it takes, from the student to the RN to the facilitator on prac. I have personally found that when I go in with the attitude to do the job well from the get go that the support and encouragement always follows. As an EN doing uni to become an RN I may have some advantages or disadvantages depending on how you look at it. I have seen students walk onto a ward and say straight out they are there to learn how to be RN’s not give bedpans, make beds, shower patients or even answer buzzers. It is quite funny when you really think about it because it is all nursing!!!! Nursing is a hands on profession and I have found that if someone rolls there eyes at another student on the ward, they soon change their attitude as I do what they ask and I also take initiative to do what is needed; all the while making sure I am available to do the drugs, transfers, paperwork, contacting doctors and most important caring for the patient. Nursing I have found is a juggling act and time management is the key. We all need to remember the patient is why we are there!!

  9. I have been very fortunate in my long and varied career to have been given the privilege of working with nurses who are commencing their professional career. Their enthusiasm for learning is always inspirational and has allowed me to enjoy my wonderful job for more than 31 years as an RN both in the UK and for the last 21 years in Australia. I have rarely met a student or new graduate that did not have the potential to be an exceptional RN.

    I get very disillusioned with our profession when I hear that nurses treat students and new graduates in an unprofessional manner. Good role modelling and providing opportunities for learning, to enable transfer of skills learned at university, are paramount to ensure our profession remains dynamic. RN’s trained at university learn to be critical thinkers, analytical and reflective. In our profession these are essential skills that allow us to move forward and learn within our ever changing social learning environment.

    I am aware that my working career will be over within the next 10 -12 years. I know that the profession is in good hands with many of the young nurses I have had the honour of working with.

    Over to you.

  10. Oh Yes, I remember coming across those bitter RN’s that whinged at you that you have not “suffered” as they did way back in the dinosaur era lol.
    Prac as a nursing student was always an interesting 4 weeks each semster. You arrive on the ward all happy, cheery, and eager to learn only to be crushed in the 1st 5 minutes during hand over when the RN that you are being buddied with rolls her eyes and mumbles under her breath “oh great another @*%# student” Then they turn to you and tell you that you are going to be their “bed pan girl” for the day.
    I remember so vividly that in my 2nd year I was sent to the orthapedics ward at the hospital I was doing my placement. The RN turned to me told me it was her birthday and I was going to be her bed pan and shower girl for the shift, whilst she did the med round and dressings. I turned to her and in a matter of fact voice said to her, ” I work in a nursing home on the weekends, I know how to toilet, shower pt’s and I know how to make a bed. If you arn’t going to teach me anything new then I will just sit her at the nurses stn with the mims learning my drugs.” and I turned around sat at the nurses stn and for 6hrs learnt names of drugs, the indications and contraindications. As a student it is really crushing to hear the RN’s talk about you and the other students in a really negative way whilst they are in the tea room. It puts you off working not only at that particular ward in that hospital but in my case in the public hospital sector all together. On the other hand you have those really great RN’s that even though you don’t remember their name you will never forget them because they made you placement so good, and you learned so much and it is because of them that you are a nurse today.

    I always tell my staff when students or trainees get buddied up with them ” They are only as good as you train them, If you roll your eyes and can’t be bothered then how can you expect them to be good later? “

  11. I’m a new graduate RN (2 weeks into the job in fact) and have found the vast majority of staff on my ward to be very approachable when I have questions and even go out of their way to ask me if I need anything! One nurse in particular however gave me a hard time today because I missed a blood test because I didn’t know it had been ordered. These situations are not errors in my opinion, they are part of the adjustment process that happens whenever you enter a new workplace. Nurses who make you question your nursing abilities due to simply being new to the workplace are simply not worth your time and energy. My advice is find those amazing supportive role models and soak up everything you can from them.

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