My first year of nursing, I considered becoming a forest ranger. Nursing was bleeding my emotions.
When I first got out of school, hospitals faced a big nursing shortage—not unlike today. The unit was understaffed, and the level of responsibility quickly overwhelmed me.
Worse, I became trapped in a destructive internal dialogue. I’d constantly tell myself: I’m not doing a good enough job. I stink at this. I’m a huge failure.
I had no one with whom to process my emotions.
At the time, I worked on an Oncology unit, when people were in-patient for much of their chemo. Horrifically sick, many of my patients died. Alone, I internalized my thoughts and emotions. I kept thinking, If I were just a good enough nurse, I could handle this better.
I shut down rather than going to people and admitting that I was having a hard time. But the truth was, I didn’t know whom to go to.
The head nurse quit about two months after I started, so that relationship was gone quickly. Then the new head nurse started—but it was her first job as a head nurse. She was overwhelmed, too. I don’t blame her, but her attention to the new nurses was minimal at best because of her other responsibilities.
With my confidence plummeting, my negative internal dialogue increased.
Who’s in Your Corner?
Here is an obvious takeaway from my experience: New nurses need to get proper support from colleagues who understand them. That’s priority number one.
The transition from student to professional is difficult. Student nurses may find support from a variety of sources, but as a new professional, I found it tough knowing whom I could trust. There were colleagues in the unit who couldn’t be trusted with my emotions – those who would see my struggles as weakness or incompetence, or those who simply didn’t care.
Most new nurses are hesitant to share these feeling with their colleagues. So the new nurse’s internal dialogue plays out in a negative way—and perhaps makes him or her want to quit trying.
All nurses experience feelings of inadequacy. The good news is that many experienced nurses are willing to help you work through your questions of “Am I doing a good enough job?” or “Are these realistic expectations?” or whatever you struggle with. Let’s face it, when you voice your inadequacies, they often feel less ominous—even silly, to a point.
So why aren’t new nurses connecting? Time constraints and the fear of being the only one feeling like Nurse Know-nothing.
The best advice is to make time for this both inside and outside of work. Extend yourselves to colleagues. Ask them to lunch or make a point of going to happy hour at week’s end. Or maybe even work-out after your shift. On especially stressful days, even 15 minutes of exercise and experiencing an emotional connection with like-minded people can effectively manage your stress.
One of the best forums is within the recent-grad program, offered by many hospitals. While the main intent of these programs may be skill-building, a side benefit is the friendships and camaraderie with other nurses. These relationships can provide much-needed empathy and become a sounding board for strategic problem-solving. It’s the perfect environment to practice asking the questions rattling around in your head that keep you from being the confident, productive nurse you can be.