Helping New Nurses Find Their Way: The Art of Saying Yes

A Preceptor’s Example

Photo by Ed Eckstein

Photo by Ed Eckstein

AJN’s Transition to Practice column is designed to help new nurses in their first year at the bedside. In this month’s column, “The Art of Saying Yes,” Amanda Anderson explains how as a new nurse she learned the benefits (to herself and her patients) of going the extra mile at work. She describes the surprising personal and professional benefits that come from “the times you choose to say yes when you might just as easily have deferred.”

Anderson paints a vivid picture of her first days on the job as a nurse: The fear of making mistakes, the feeling of being a useless novice, the shame of not always being able to keep up with seasoned staff. She was fortunate, though, to have an expert mentor in those early days. Her preceptor was an experienced nurse who modeled the art of saying yes—an art that might be described as a willingness to leap in to help when not required to do so: to take on a housekeeping task, for example, or pitch in unasked to help another nurse whose day is spinning out of control.

“There is no term for this concept in the literature,” writes Anderson. “Fundamentally, this desire that compels nurses to perform outside the realm of their title falls under Florence Nightingale’s description of a ‘calling,’ a quality of those nurses who take precautions and extra steps to ensure their patients’ health and safety—not because someone is looking over their shoulders, but because they feel truly satisfied when they give high-quality care.”

Benefits of Jumping Into the Fray

This young nurse quickly realized that other staff respected her extra efforts. She also found that jumping into the fray brought immediate personal benefits. She learned new technical and organizational skills, and grew more quickly in her professional role. Saying yes became a way to face her fears of all she didn’t yet know—a way to grasp learning opportunities that are always there for the taking in a busy clinical environment. Saying yes always carried with it the potential for failure, but the commitment to go “above and beyond” more often resulted in a new confidence and ease in her work.

We Instead of I

All of this is not to suggest that saying yes should be a solution to chronic understaffing, or that our willingness to work hard should be exploited instead of rewarded. But in these days when the demands of our profession make some of us feel isolated or even victimized at work, saying yes also promotes the essential perspective of “we” rather than “I,” and solidifies the formation of strong, high-functioning, and supportive teams.

Whether we are new or seasoned professionals, saying yes is a way to support each other through taxing and difficult times. As Anderson points out, this mutual support inevitably brings both personal and professional rewards.

2016-11-21T13:00:48+00:00 November 18th, 2016|career, Nursing|3 Comments
Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist


  1. Lauren November 29, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    My interest in this blog was piqued just from the title.As a nursing student who is about to start practicum next semester I am concerned about what sort of preceptor I will have. From my experience in clinicals I have realized that the nurse who you are assigned to can have a great impact on the quality of your experience. I am grateful to those nurses who took their time to explain the procedures to skills, allowed me to practice them, and educated me on the conditions that their patients had. Having these experiences has made me want to do the same in return once I become a seasoned nurse training a new employee or supervising a nursing student. At the same time, I have learned that while my preceptor does effect my experience in the clinical setting it helps to have the initiative to seek out opportunities to learn and make the effort to help my preceptor with whatever they need without he or she asking first. One day I hope to become a nurse who sets an example for new and student nurses and who will be considered a valuable asset to the staff.

  2. Gertha November 28, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Nursing is a very difficult profession to be new in. Novice nurses usually do not have as much experience and fear saying “Yes” because they do not want to be overwhelmed or make a mistake. What some novice nurses fail to realize is that saying “yes” is a part of their growth. Nurses like Amanda Anderson who are able to have expert preceptors as a novice usually are better able to grow because they have the guidance and push that all novice nurses need. The art of saying yes is something all novice nurses need in order to come out of their shell and to find where their weaknesses are so they are able to improve it. The art of saying yes should be used with caution because it is not good to be overworked by taking on the responsibility of everyone else; novice nurses should always know when to say yes and when “yes” is doing them harm.

  3. Gabriella Gordillo November 26, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Nursing is a profession that requires a certain degree of initiative. If the individual does not find actions to learn, they will continue to feel subordinate to the more experienced nurses. The novice nurse will be able to fix this problem by helping and encouraging hands-on experiences when shadowing an experienced nurse. Shadowing will allow them to not only to become well versed with their floor and plan of care but allows them to gain insight into a person who has been successful in a career with so many uncertainties. The only problem new nurses have trouble being able to gain momentum is when the staff, or nurse whom they are following, does not allow them to be part of the care. The Art of Saying Yes is an initiative that benefits both the novice and experienced nurse. With the ability to be a part of the fray, new nurses are more likely to learn from the different experiences as well as become respected by the staff because they are aiding those who may be overwhelmed with the workload.
    Also, the art of saying yes gives confidence to the novice nurse because they will always be able to rely on their expert nurse to teach them throughout their encounters. They will find a new ease with their work because they will become comfortable with their environment and peers. It can also influence the way the staff works cohesively rather than only focus on themselves. Saying yes not only allows the new nurses to learn and appreciate the wisdom of the other nurses, but the experts are also able to refresh their education and possibly even acquire new techniques from the novices. It is so important to feel comfortable and confident in the environment in which you work as well as respect and work well with your fellow health care professionals. The Art of Saying Yes is a step forward in making a smoother transition from novice to expert.

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