Practically a Nurse: Life as a New Graduate RNSeptember 25, 2012
By Medora McGinnis, RN, whose last post for this blog was “Don’t Cling to Tradition: A Nursing Student’s Call for Realism, Respect.” Medora is now a pediatric RN at St. Mary’s Hospital in the Bon Secours Health System, Richmond, Virginia, as well as a freelance writer. As a nursing student she was the Imprint Editor for the National Student Nurses Association.
Life as a new graduate RN has been . . . confusing. While my peers seem to have it all together, for the last five months since graduating I’ve been perplexed—what do I do with myself, if I don’t have to stress out and study everyday? Well, of course I have my five kids to keep me busy, an amazing new job as a pediatric RN, and my husband who almost forgot what I look like.
Still, I feel like I should be cramming for something, memorizing something, or at least triple-tasking. I’m stressed that I’m not stressing out. Maybe I just dreamt that I graduated . . .
Here is a little of my backstory: I graduated in May from a three-year diploma program, as part of the very last class in that historic Virginia program, Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing. It is now a four-year BSN program. They are affiliated with the large health system of the same name, and one of the benefits of this type of program is the guidance provided to students and graduates during the job search.
I participated in the “early career decision program,” which started well before graduation, and it was an amazing experience. Nurse managers from all four area Bon Secours hospitals attended, and we were able to do a “speed dating”–style interview session with many of them. They then called some of us back for second interviews on their units, and we were on our own from there for the interview process.
Get involved. I worked very hard throughout school, and was blessed to receive an offer to join the unit that I had always wanted—pediatrics. The takeaway: If you’re currently a nursing student, my advice is to not only focus on schoolwork, but also participate in any and every additional student opportunities you can—join state and national organizations, especially the National Student Nurses Association; go to meetings and seminars, visit annual conventions, and keep a record for yourself. You will learn and grow, and it will come in handy when you are ready for the job search.
Now that I’m working on our peds unit, it has become clear to me that a lot of what I just learned in school is not part of everyday nursing care—perhaps that’s because I’m in such a specialized unit, but most units have a focus. As RNs, our education is so vast (general, but vast) that it’s probably not even possible to use it all in one specialty! If I don’t use my knowledge somehow, I’m going to lose it.
So as a new grad, how do I work to retain that nursing school knowledge? There is a big effort nationwide to support and encourage working nurses who want to go back to school—for me, the next step will be an RN-to-BSN program. For BSN grads, you might think about a master’s program or a doctoral program. All of these will require dedication and investment, but they will also propel us into the future of nursing and give us the tools to guide our profession.
Daily life as a new grad RN on the pediatric unit is exciting, and has its ups and downs. My fellow nurses and manager are supportive and encouraging, while also holding me to a very high standard. I’m comfortable working with families and little patients, and I’ve already learned that just when things feel “comfortable,” I get another admission—I’ve learned to always work as if there’s another patient on the way up. It’s true that nurses often don’t go to the bathroom or drink anything for hours on end—it takes a conscious effort to avoid dehydration!
But no matter what’s going on or how overwhelmed we might be, a positive attitude will make it easier—help others, and it will be reciprocated when I need it.
It’s a blessing to have the security of working in a profession that will never go out of style, and one that I can be proud of and love. If you’re thinking about nursing school, do it. If you have your heart in it you can be successful. If you’re already in nursing school now, don’t let go, don’t back down, and don’t let struggles keep you down. And if you have recently graduated and are working in your new field, congratulations . . . but really, we’re all just getting started. Every day on the job brings new policies and procedures, new methods, new documentation to learn. It never ends, and that is a good thing. We’re always improving, looking to evidence-based research for the best practices for our profession. And while change is sometimes uncomfortable, of course we always want to be providing the best care possible for our patients.
Perhaps it’s this process of change that has me all confused. I’m enjoying my family life again and getting used to the schedule of working 12-hour shifts (overnights, no less) and having some time completely off. But what do people do with free time? I’m trying to rediscover this concept, but maybe I should just go for that RN to BSN while I’m in the right mindset . . .
Nursing school is not for the faint of heart, but graduation is really just the starting point.