For many newly qualified registered nurses, entering the health care workforce for the first time as a ‘new grad’ is probably one of the most challenging times they will ever know in their careers. There will no doubt be lots of excitement and pride, many future hopes and career aspirations. There will also be an array of fears and anxieties, perhaps even some self-doubt and uncertainty. If you are one of these newly qualified registered nurses, there’s good news. You’re normal. You are certainly not alone in these thoughts and feelings; despite the rhetoric of what others around you may be saying or pretending. The adjustment to your professional role, the responsibility and accountability that comes with an average day in practice will no doubt result in quite a few sleep deprived nights.
I can guarantee that all registered nurses have experienced the conflicting emotions of excitement and fear at the beginning of their careers. The good news is that this initial anxiety will soon give way to a multitude of rewarding experiences and career development opportunities. I know this to be true because I was once a new grad too. I can remember clearly the culture shock I experienced as I transitioned from university student to registered nurse. I sometimes reflect on that period in my life, and how uncertain I was at times. I have often thought what I would say if I could enter a time machine and go back to talk to my new grad self.
Firstly, I would tell myself that those first few weeks and months were the vital foundation I needed to begin developing my professional identity. I would reassure myself that even though not every shift was wonderful, the sum of all those experiences (even the not so perfect ones) were providing the solid foundation I needed to build a long and happy career.
Secondly, I would tell myself to not get distracted by the location, service or specialty I had been rotated in and out of as part of my transition to professional practice programme. Rather, I would tell myself to focus my energy over those first few months on choosing a role model. A registered nurse who represented the type of nurse I aspired to be. Someone who I could readily ask for advice and support; someone who would speak the truth even if it was difficult to hear and had the experience to give honest feedback.
Thirdly, I would tell myself to take my time. I would assure myself that there is no value in rushing towards fast-track promotion or fancy job titles. I would focus my energy on developing my knowledge, skills and professional identity, confident that career opportunities would emerge naturally; sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Most of all, I would remind myself to cherish the opportunity to learn all I could whenever I could. I would tell myself that if I did all these things I was going to have the most amazing journey on a long, happy and exciting career. And I would tell myself that it would all come true.
Kath Sharples is the owner of Health Education Consultants Australia