Six Ways to Support a New Nurse on the Job

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 03/21/19

When a new graduate clocks in for the first as a nursing professional, that entry into the profession can be an anxious and exciting time. Providing support to novice nurses is our individual and collective responsibility. So why not do it right?

While some facilities and healthcare organizations offer new graduate residencies or precepting programs, many don’t do much more than a cursory orientation. In fact, it’s been determined that almost 30% of new grads leave the profession in the first three years, and this high rate of attrition contributes to nursing shortages and short staffing.

Even if your facility mentors new nurses, you can still choose to lean in and make a new grad’s entry into the profession smoother. Here are six ideas to consider putting into action.

1. Be Kind

Some of us had a less than gentle beginning to our nursing careers, and there are nurses who are likely to say things like, “Well, nobody held my hand when I was a new nurse. Why should I do anything different?”

It’s clear that perpetuating a negative workplace environment makes no sense, but many nurses may feel this way. Why is such a lack of kindness so pervasive? Why do nurses bully their nurse brothers and sisters? We don’t need to contribute to such practices.

Be kind, be helpful, and nurture those new nurses. It feels better to be kind.

2. Be Willing to Teach

One form of kindness that you can personally exhibit towards a novice nurse is being willing to be their teacher. There are so many things we just don’t learn in nursing school. So, when a new nurse is uncertain how to do something, don’t roll your eyes, sigh, and grudgingly show them. Rather, remember how much you didn’t know when you first started, and use your teaching skills to mentor your nurse colleague.

3. Healthy Communication

Model healthy communication: Healthcare is all about multidisciplinary collaboration. Model assertive communication so that they can learn how a seasoned professional nurse handles complicated situations.

New nurses need to see how experienced nurses move through the world. How do they treat support staff like unit secretaries, housekeepers, and food service workers? Modeling excellent and kind communication is a key skill to teach the nurses who are finding their way through complex workplace dynamics. 

4. Encourage and Model Self-Care

Many nurses have trouble finding time for simple self-care strategies while at work, and these may include using the bathroom, eating, and staying hydrated. New nurses are going to be under considerable stress, so support them in getting their nutrition and hydration breaks. And if you can model self-care by doing these things yourself, all the better.

You can also check in with your novice nurse colleagues about how they’re sleeping, what they’re doing for fun, and how they’re taking care of themselves outside of work. If you work nights, share your best practices for dealing with a disrupted sleep cycle, or other techniques you use for staying sane and healthy.

5. Encourage Eduacation

If new nurses ask for your opinion about pursuing more education and knowledge, be encouraging and ask open-ended questions in order to understand their concerns. If a nurse with an ADN is uncertain about getting his BSN, talk with him about the benefits of doing so.

You can introduce your nurse colleague to sources of high-quality CEU courses, seminars, webinars, and professional conferences. Be a good resource.

6. Listen Attentively

We all know that starting a nursing career can be rough. So, beyond giving advice and educating new nurses, be willing to listen. They are going to need to vent, blow off steam, and process what they’re going through. Whether you do so in the break room, over a beer, or during a meal break or telephone call, listening is one of the kindest acts you can perform for a stressed out fledgling nurse.

There's Always More

There is always more that you can do for a new nurse, and each nurse will have his or her own individual experience. If you put these six tips into practice and sincerely want to be a positive influence on the lives and careers of the newer nurses in your midst, you’ll be doing a great service for them, for your unit, your organization, as well as for patients and the greater community and society.

We all know that new nurses can be thrown to the wolves too soon, totally skipping the frying pan and ending up right in the fire. Let’s ease their transition and make it less painful, and then ask them to pay it forward to the next novice nurse on the unit who looks like a frightened deer in the headlights. Kindness is contagious.