Life between the flags: John’s New Grad experience

Nurse John Tran | Photo: Provided

New Grad Nurse John shares his experiences of anxiety, catching yourself, and “living between the flags” as a nurse fresh out of uni.

“I wanted to be the best nurse I could be… That idea quickly crumbled” 

Starting as a New Graduate Registered Nurse, I was full of hope. I wanted to be the best nurse I could be: composed, intelligent and have the ability to make my colleagues and clients feel comfortable. That idea quickly crumbled as I started my new graduate rotation through the Emergency ward.

I struggled in my New Grad year, and had a horrible feeling that I was not cut out to be a nurse. I thought that I wasn’t good enough,,that I was too slow, that I was a burden to my colleagues. My doubt made me afraid to ask questions in fear of looking incompetent. I felt like a puppy thrown into the deep end paddling so hard to keep his head above the water.

“An anxiety built up as I walked into the bleak coloured walls of the hospital”

I remember feeling a knot inside my stomach every time I started my Emergency shifts. A generalised anxiety built up as I walked into the bleak coloured walls of the hospital and the heavy scent of ammonia burnt my nostrils. Some shifts I would enter before the sun rose and left after sun set, not seeing the sun for days.

It was a dark time. I compared myself to the nurses who seemed so at ease, so experienced and so empathetic to their patients. I looked at myself and I was an anxious mess who struggled to juggle my to-do list. I got so caught up in my own head that I lost that connection to people.

Things started to get better. When I started my New Grad, the day was 80% bad and only 20% good. That is because at the beginning everything is foreign; from the layout of the ward to the procedures and equipment.

Once you are continually exposed to the routines, things get easier. Procedures become more autonomous and in those moments when you are not in your head, you are able to make small meaningful connections with your clients. As the weeks and months pass, that ratio slowly shifts towards the positive and I found that it’s now 20% bad and 80% good.

John reminds nurses and midwives to “live between the flags” | Photo Credit: Henry Burrows via Flickr

“Live between the flags”

As nurses we have been trained to keep our patients between the flags. We recognise straight away when someone drifts into the yellow zone; we strap on oxygen, call a clinical review and do our A-G assessment almost by habit. We know that finding someone at the yellow zone is much better than when someone falls into the red zone. Just as we closely monitor our patients for deterioration, we must monitor our own deterioration. If you notice you are more anxious or angry, take some time out to take care of yourself; talk to a friend or colleague. The training is to catch yourself as you drift into the yellow zone. Reach out to a colleague and just talk, often they go through similar struggles and would appreciate someone who can empathise.

Things do get better; with repetition and exposure, things get easier. Remember to catch yourself as you drift into the yellow zone. Live between the flags.

John Tran is a registered nurse, Youtuber, podcaster and NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association member. He regularly records his podcast ‘You got a friend in me‘, where he talks about the BIG issues.


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