As a recent nursing school graduate, you are entering the field at a unique time. Navigating your first year as a nurse is always challenging, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented obstacles. The past several months have taken a toll on seasoned and inexperienced nurses alike and have brought changes to the entire industry at lightning speed.
When you don your cute scrub jacket and head into work, don’t be surprised if you are not greeted with the level of enthusiasm you had hoped for. While current healthcare professionals are happy and appreciative to have you on board, they are tired. They have been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic for nearly a year now, and they are spending their days struggling through exhaustion and compassion fatigue. Because of this, you may face more challenges than you would have if you had entered the field pre-pandemic.
Your first job after earning a degree is always challenging. Starting your career as a nurse amid a pandemic, however, is like walking into a lion’s den. Keep reading to learn a bit more about navigating the industry and discover some helpful advice for nursing students who graduated in the winter of 2020.
Be Prepared to Learn on Your Feet
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Your nursing degree is proof you have already learned a lot about the field. The truth, though, is learning in a classroom is nothing like real-world experience. When you begin your career as a nurse, you need to develop patient care skills, become a master of time management, gain an understanding of various medications and their uses and familiarize yourself with the policies of the facility where you work.
There’s a lot of learning that needs to be done even in normal times.
Due to the current pandemic, though, your on-the-job learning will be even more difficult than usual. Policies are being created and changed so quickly that, by the time you feel like you know what’s going on, something will probably have changed. COVID has also worsened the on-going nurse shortage which makes it more difficult to find a more experienced nurse who can help you. Budget cuts have resulted in shorter orientations, and some residency programs have been eliminated.
In other words, there are a lot of things you need to learn, and there are fewer educational opportunities than there once were.
If you want to build a successful nursing career, be prepared to learn on your feet. You’ll need to process information quickly and be willing to study in your off time to ensure you possess the knowledge you need. You will also need to be self-motivated since it’s unlikely there will be other nurses who can hold your hand while you learn.
Find Your People
Knowing where to turn to find people who are willing and able to help is hard–especially with the current circumstances–but it is vital. No matter what facility or department you work in, there are always people who you can bond with and who will help you get through your most difficult days. Due to current nurse shortages and other complications, you may have to look harder than you would have had to in the past, but they are there.
Seek out a co-worker whom you feel comfortable going to with questions. Even if they are new to the industry like you, together, you will be able to figure a lot of things out. Look for people who are willing to take a bit of time out of their day to help you as you navigate your first days, weeks and months as a nurse. Be aware, due to the development of units designated for COVID+ patients, nurses float between departments more frequently now than in the past. This means you may not work with the same people daily. Make sure you find multiple people with whom you feel comfortable to ensure there is always someone you can turn to while you are at work.
When you are having a particularly difficult day, reach out to a friend from nursing school. Even if they work in a different facility, they will likely be able to relate to your struggles and the challenges you are facing. Sometimes, talking to a friend who is facing similar obstacles provides the comfort of knowing you are not alone and you are all just doing your best.
Embrace Advanced Sanitation Protocols
Sanitation has always been important in the healthcare industry. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it has become more vital than ever. As someone new to working in the healthcare field, you may feel odd about keeping your work shoes in the trunk of your car or taking a shower as soon as you return home from work. Embracing these sanitation protocols is important and will help you protect yourself and those around you.
Wash your hands frequently, and be mindful about what objects you take to work with you. As soon as you get home from work, wash your scrubs using hot water and antimicrobial laundry detergent. Follow the practices and protocols in place at the facility where you work. Remember, even with a vaccine, preventing the spread of COVID is important.
While now is a great time to enter the nursing profession, it is also a challenging time. While nursing students’ views on the COVID-19 pandemic vary, recent graduates often face even higher levels of stress than anticipated upon entering the field. If you have recently completed nursing school and will soon be starting a new job, remember you are not alone. Be prepared to continue learning, and know when to reach out for help. Becoming a nurse during a pandemic isn’t for the faint of heart, but the rewards are well worth the challenges you will face.