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5 Ways to Survive Your First Year as a Nurse in 2021

The first year is rough for new nurses even during normal times. Throw an unprecedented pandemic into the mix, and it is enough to make many recent nursing school graduates second-guess their career choice. While nursing school itself is undeniably difficult, it is nothing compared to working in the field. And, in 2021, many new nurses are facing additional challenges brought on by missing out on clinical hours due to COVID-19. Here’s 5 ways to survive your first year as a nurse in 2021.

Your first year as a nurse
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Whether you have already landed the nursing position of your dreams or were forced to accept an offer that wasn’t quite what you wanted so you could pay the bills, your first year probably will not look anything like you expect. Fortunately, though, there are plenty of ways to cope as you learn the ins and outs of being a nurse. You will likely have days where you feel completely burnt-out and exhausted at the end of the day, but there are ways to survive. Read on to learn more.

  1. Invest in a Nice Wardrobe

Having nice clothes to wear to work may not seem important, but it is. Depending on your facility’s dress code, there might not be anything in the rules stating you cannot continue wearing the same scrubs you wore in nursing school. Upgrading your wardrobe, however, upgrades your appearance and boosts your confidence. Invest in some stylish scrub jackets, tops, and bottoms that make you look and feel great.

Get yourself a good pair of nursing shoes, too. You will be spending a lot of hours on your feet, and you need footwear that you can rely on to keep you up and moving on the longest days. Even if you don’t have room in your budget for a brand-new wardrobe, buying good shoes is a must.

  1. Accept That Nursing School Does Not Reflect the Real World
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When working toward your degree, you learn the fundamentals of nursing in a sheltered environment. One of the main goals is preparing you to pass the NCLEX, and the vast majority of your studies are based on hypothetical situations. And, unfortunately, they often are not reflective of real-world cases.

Keep in mind, too, that as a student, you do not experience the internal systems and policies present in clinical settings. Each facility has unique ways of doing things, and even common procedures may be done differently in some facilities than in others.

Think of your first year as a nurse as a continuation of your education. During this time, you are expected to learn the nuances of being a working nurse. Get comfortable with asking questions and speaking up if you are unsure of how to do something. Having your degree does not mean you know everything there is to know about being a nurse. Accept that nursing school does not reflect the real world, and be prepared to do some serious learning in your first year on the job.

  1. Respect Experienced Nurses

Working with experienced nurses is often intimidating. Many seasoned nurses communicate with newbies in ways that can come off as mean or abrasive. Often, though, the attitude stems from having to work with fresh graduates who think they know a lot more than they do. Nurses who have been on the job for a while have loads of information to share. You need to listen and show them respect, though.

As a new nurse, it is important to understand that there may be multiple ways of completing a task. You might have learned one way in school, but an experienced nurse may suggest another way. Not everything is done to textbook standards, and you will realize this as you spend more time working in the field.

In the early days and months of your career, listen to what seasoned nurses have to tell you. Show them respect, be open to their suggestions, and don’t go in with a know-it-all attitude. These few simple things will help you build better relationships with the more experienced nurses where you work.

Source: Dmytro Zinkevych/
  1. Find a Mentor

A lot of nurses feel like their education did not adequately prepare them for the real world. The first year is incredibly difficult, and it is normal to question whether a nursing career is right for you after all. Finding a mentor early on in your career is one of the best things you can do to boost your chances of surviving that first year and building a solid nursing career.

Connect with a seasoned nurse who is willing to show you the ropes, provide constructive criticism, and answer questions about the job, as well as the facility and its policies. Someone who is willing to listen as you vent your frustrations is incredibly helpful, too.



  1. Never Stop Learning

Finishing nursing school and passing your boards does not mean that you can take a break from learning. Education is an ongoing process for anyone in the medical field, including nurses. And keep in mind that continuing education does not just mean going back to school to earn a higher degree. It also means pursuing additional certifications, studying up on new medications and treatments, and brushing up on things that have slipped your mind.

To be a good nurse, you need to possess the most up-to-date and accurate knowledge. Gaining that knowledge is only possible through continued learning. If you think your education has ended just because you got your diploma and license, you will have a hard time surviving your first year, let alone building a career.

Closing Thoughts

The first year on the job as a nurse is not for the faint of heart. You will quickly learn that working in the real world barely resembles classroom learning. You’ll also find that you know much less than you think you do. With perseverance, the right attitude, and a wardrobe filled with stylish scrubs for women or men, though, you can make it through your first year and go on to build a rewarding career as a nurse.

Thanks for another great post from Adela Ellis!