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Life After Nursing School: Ready For What’s Next?

Close up image of IV drip in OR setting
You just graduated from nursing school. You passed the NCLEX, and you’re well on your way to becoming a new nurse in your chosen specialty. How do you feel? It’s a big step toward your future career, but making the transition from nursing school to your first nursing job can definitely be nerve-racking.
Headshot of Kelly Hunt

By Kelly Hunt, RN, BSN Immediate Past President of the National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA) 2014 - 2015 Cardiac/Telemetry Nurse at Mission Hospital, Mission Viejo, Calif.

You just graduated from nursing school. You passed the NCLEX, and you’re well on your way to becoming a new nurse in your chosen specialty. How do you feel? It’s a big step toward your future career, but making the transition from nursing school to your first nursing job can definitely be nerve-racking.

The biggest difference between my current role and what I learned in nursing school is having complete responsibility for patients during my 12-hour shifts.In nursing school, we operate under the license of a clinical instructor or preceptor. We’re given the tools to establish a solid foundation of nursing skills, but we can’t fully understand how it feels to be a nurse until we are one and have that personal experience. Caring for patients with my own registered nurse (RN) license has given me an immense sense of responsibility, pride and at times a bit of fear as patients depend on me to know exactly what’s best for their health.

During my first few months as a new cardiac/telemetry nurse at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif., I quickly learned three valuable lessons: 

1. Never stop learning - In nursing school, I had the pleasure of being national president of the NSNA. Getting involved with NSNA taught me how to practice servant leadership, collaboration, effective communication and conflict resolution. After graduating, professional organizations are an even more important support network as I continue in my nursing career. As a new nurse, I work on maintaining my connections with nursing leaders from NSNA and all over the world. I love hearing about their successes, struggles and best practices. I am also a member Sigma Theta Tau International, the American Nurses Association and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. These professional associations provide new learning opportunities by sharing information on new research, best practices and hosting conferences.

2. Significance of time management - As a new nurse, I went through orientation during day shift and later switched to nights. What surprised me the most was the level of multitasking that occurred on my floor. Between all of the different cardiac surgical procedures, care collaboration between physicians, case management, charting, not knowing where things were stored, and an unfamiliar phone/computer/paging system…there were times I felt overwhelmed and clueless. With encouragement from my preceptors, mentors and nurse manager, I gained confidence and developed my own routine. I’m still focused on improving my time management and multitasking skills; however, I always remind myself that as long as I’ve learned one thing today, it has been a good day!

3. How to remain resilient - A few weeks ago, I lost my first patient at the end of my shift. It was a very difficult experience and it left me feeling sad, frustrated and exhausted. My mentor at the hospital hugged me before I left. I cried the whole way home, sitting on the floor of my kitchen, and as I sat in bed the next morning mentally preparing for another shift.

After that experience, I realized how invaluable my mentors, preceptors and colleagues are. They showed me great compassion and empathy during a difficult time. I received an outpouring of support and encouragement, and it gave me the strength to continue. Nursing can be emotionally demanding. We must always remember to support and empower each other. It’s one of my favorite components of the nursing profession.

I have been lucky to find many nurses that serve as mentors for me in nursing – in terms of leadership, education and practice. Heidi O.; Tami W.; Jeri M.; Peggy K.; and Leigh E. are some of the best nurses I’ve worked with or have the pleasure of knowing who have inspired and motivated me at different points in my nursing career. Through these interactions, I’ve learned that nurses don’t have just one mentor; try to have as many as you can. Surround yourself with innovation and inspiration. This will help you become a stronger nurse.

Overall, being a nurse is everything I want from a career and more. I enjoy being at the bedside with my cardiac patients. I love establishing a connection with my patients and serving as their advocate during one of the most difficult times in their lives. It’s truly an honor, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

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