10 tips for starting a new nursing job off on the right foot

Beginning a new nursing job? These 10 tips can help you avoid missteps and ensure a smooth transition to your new environment.

10 tips for starting a new nursing job off on the right foot

Starting a new nursing job is a time filled with promise and expectations, but it's also tinged with uncertainty. To help assure your success, heed the advice of experienced nurses. They can help you steer clear of potential missteps and suggest strategies that can help ensure a smooth transition to your new environment. 

1. Leverage Your Orientation

Take advantage of every learning opportunity, urges Jean Mills, RN, MS, clinical instructor with the University of Illinois College of Nursing. Even experienced nurses actively engage in new employee orientations. At the end of your orientation, if you don't feel comfortable working without your mentor, or if you feel shaky in certain situations or with certain procedures, ask to be reoriented by the staff education department, Mills suggests. 

2. Get the Max from Your Mentor

Work closely with your assigned mentor or preceptor to share in her wisdom. Mismatches do occur, so if you aren't hitting it off, speak to the unit manager about getting assigned to a new mentor. Once formal mentoring ends, seek out informal mentors. "Find seasoned nurses willing to take you under their wing," says Nancy DiDona, EdD, RNC, coordinator of the traditional program in nursing at Dominican College.

3. Stay Out of the Dirt

It's tempting to get caught up in unhealthy dynamics when you're new and trying to fit in. But don't do it. Step back, assess the situation and develop an appropriate professional response. Ask, "Is there a better way we can handle this?" Or say, "This is what I'm hearing." Both are positive ways of getting people to reflect on what is happening.

4. Bond with Your Team

Build good will by offering to help colleagues in a difficult situation. Hopefully, they'll return the favor. Get to know your coworkers. "Socialization is so important," says Patricia McLaughlin, MSN, staff nurse at the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. "You don't have to go out to lunch or send birthday cards, but at least find out about people." As a new nurse, you're vulnerable to being dumped on, so being a team player can help prevent that from happening.

5. Be Teachable

Don't ever be afraid to ask questions -- doing so can benefit both you and the person you're asking. "Sometimes questions from new people make you as the leader see things differently," McLaughlin says. Questions can also prevent mistakes, notes McLaughlin who recalls the time a question from a colleague prevented her from making a medication error.

6. Keep Your Eyes Open

Observe the experts on your unit or in your practice setting, suggests McLaughlin. You can learn a great deal by watching how they arrive at an agreement, handle difficult patients and interact with physicians. See what works and what doesn't.

7. Set Priorities

Learn to evaluate which needs are most critical and look for ways to delegate tasks that someone else can handle, such as transporting a discharge patient. Ask the senior people on the floor how they handle a situation or troubleshoot with management to find new ways of doing things. Often, as a new employee, you have a much clearer vision of what is going on and can (tactfully) question existing processes that may not be working.

8. Make Friends in High and Low Places

Nobody works in a vacuum. Befriend both support staff and management. Don't think you're above the maintenance staff, unit secretaries or patient-care technicians. "That's a curse that can come back and bite you," McLaughlin warns. "They can destroy you if you get on their bad side." And interacting with nursing managers who set policies will help you avoid the "us versus them" mentality.

9. Recharge Your Batteries

Take time to destress. It will make you a better nurse.

10. Give Your New Position a Fair Shake

When you get frustrated or discouraged, don't give up on yourself or the institution, thinking you made the wrong job or career choice. "All change is frightening, and you need time to adapt to your new role as a professional," DiDona says. "It takes a good six months to a year to feel part of a work situation."