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Managing Your Career
Advice for New Nurse Surprises
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Don’t complain—problem-solve. That’s only one of several bits of advice on how new nurses can counter some of the surprises of real world nursing:

Surprise #1: Presenting problems to your supervisor

New nurses often say, “I’m overworked. I don’t have this, and I don’t have that.” Instead they should be more straightforward: “Here’s the problem, and here are some of the resources I might need.” Or “Can we talk about some resources that are available?” Or “Is there another way of doing it?”

New nurses should approach problems as people do in business. It’s all right if you don’t have the answers, but don’t complain—instead, problem-solve in a professional way.

Surprise #2: Enlisting the help of seasoned nurses

Seasoned nurses like to be recognized for their knowledge and experience, but often new nurses don’t know how to ask the right questions. For example a new nurse might ask the seasoned nurse, “Where’s this?” Or, “Where’s that?” “How do I get to this?” Or, “How do I get to that?”

But new nurses should be more specific: “Mr. Jones has such-and-such issue. How would you do this? Can you guide me? Can you give me feedback?”

When you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t learn from the seasoned nurse’s expertise and knowledge. When you approach somebody with humility, assuming they may know something you don’t and being appreciative of that, you’ll get much farther.

Surprise #3: The difficulty of delegation

While delegation is discussed in school, it’s a different story to actually do it. Nurse techs can offer a lot of assistance, but they have to respect you—and you have to respect what they can do. Be willing to work with them, helping them out and making them part of your team.

And don’t be afraid to ask for advice from a tech: “What have you noticed? Did you see anything? What do you know about this person? What do they talk to you about? Are there any problems that I haven’t had a chance to talk with them about?”

Everyone should be your colleague, and they should be respected for what they know and contribute.

Cecelia Gatson Grindel, PhD, RN, CMSRN, FAAN, is associate director for graduate programs at Georgia State University ( in Atlanta, Georgia, and a RealityRN senior advisory board member.

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8 Responses to “Advice for New Nurse Surprises”

  1. Sue Anderson Says:

    As a new graduate, not having started working as an RN yet, I am enjoying reading the advice that Reality RN has to offer! I appreciate the tips reagarding delegating, especially asking advice from a tech! I know that they have a lot of information to offer and it is a great idea to ask for their input to help in establishing mutual respect and a good working relationship!

  2. Katie Says:

    Suprise #3 really hit home for me. One thing that helped me as a new RN was meeting with my CNA at the beginning of our shift. During that 2 minutes or so we both shared what we learned in report about our assigned patients and then discussed what we each were going to do throughout the shift. This helped us work as a team and made delegating easier.

  3. Lori Says:

    my experience as a new ER nurse is sometimes overwhelming–i find that i feel stupid at times, and often beat myself up if I dont know how to do everything. after a chat with my precepter, she casually reminded me that i had only been on the unit for 3 weeks !!! I had no business thinking that i was going to be up to the same level as nurses that have been there for years. she then complemented me ,reminding me again that most orientees don’t take 2 patients from intake to dicharge until they had been there much longer than 3 weeks–im now starting to feel more comfortable knowing, and learning from my preceptor and other collegues that i am doing fine, more than fine, and i need to relax—i am trying….lolol…

  4. Tito Says:

    I am about to be a new nurse myself. I start on a cardiology ward next month. Reading all of this makes me feel I am not alone in the fear that engolfs me whenever I remember what awaits me. you see, I did not have the best final placement, I had a dragon for a mentor (she placed me on a plate, garnished me, ate me and then spat me out). The experienced has scared me and I expect every nurse I meet to behave in this way. I know there are good and approachable nurses out there, just don’t know if they will be on this ward. I am really petrififed.
    Reading these comments is helping me prepare and I know that I am not alone. Sometimes, I wish nursing was a male dominated proffession.
    I will keep you all informed.

  5. Jim Says:

    i was wondering about the transition back in to normal life after school as in, does anyone else feel like no one can relate to them or have a hard time relating others? or now more than others have a hard time making new friends. if so please tell me im not crazy for feeling like this. any feed back would be helpful.

  6. Wendy Says:

    Jim, I am finishing my last quarter before the big RN, and I have spent the last three years having anything but a normal life. I worked full time through school, so I had no life. You are not crazy. My husband doesn’t even want to hear about anything medical. I told him he has to give me 10 minutes a day to vent, and this has helped. One thing I’ve been doing is making a list of hobbies and activities I would like to do when I have more free time again, like riding my bike, taking rock-climbing lessons, gardening, and doing woodworking projects with my hubby.

    Nursing school has been such an all-consuming experience that I notice that I can’t get through a conversation with anyone without mentioning it, and many people can’t relate. I am trying to get away from that, but I think it is natural and normal and will fade with time. Remember, everybody talks about their job, so it’s okay, just don’t let it dominate your interactions.

    As far as friends, I’m no good at making new ones either, never have been. I make a special effort to keep my old ones and do thinks we have always done together, get together for dinner, go for a hike. When I land a job as an RN, I plan to try to find other nurses/staff with similar interests and invite somebody to go on a hike or to lunch. It would be nice to develop a close friendship with another nurse who really understands all the stresses and fears I have and be able to discuss this stuff, but I know I have to reach out and make myself available.

  7. Trish Says:

    I am a new grad working in an ER. I feel so stupid at times and proud of myself at others. I realized that there is a big difference between performing procedures with a clinical instructor available and when it is just you and your license at stake. I know I will feel much better in about 6 months when I at least have all of the protocols/forms/computers/questioning memorized but I really wish I could just fast forward until then.

  8. Sara Says:

    I notice that some of these posts are a little outdated now…however, I still find this useful as a new graduate nurse on her second week of nursing orientation.

    I am so thankful that I was a CNA for years before nursing school, and continued on with part-time CNA work during school as well. When people tell me “welcome to the real world” I find that highly patronizing, since all of my recent classmate/grads and myself were always working and schooling (plus clinical and everything else) for 7 days a week.

    The “real world” is actually much nicer…actual days “off”? Wow! I can’t complain.

    I appreciate this advice, though, and I think it is great to emphasize asking “specific” questions rather than vague complaints/questions.

    Trish–I also want to fast-forward 6 months from now and magically have the experience and confidence to do different things. I feel like after everything–I know absolutely nothing. It is unnerving…and I am petrified of hurting someone.

    And Jim–yes, it is weird and difficult to transition out of nursing school. I am very lucky though, because I developed a close relationship with many of my classmates (both traditional and non-traditional students) and we frequently stay in touch. This is so comforting, because I realize more and more how everyone has the same fears and everyone makes mistakes…

    Yes, “feeling stupid” is my #1 feeling at this point! Hope it goes away soon! 😉

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