The Journey of a Grad Nurse


Published: 14 March 2015

Nursing school is a journey; one of suffering and elation, of coming into your own and leaping hurdles that seem to pop up everywhere around you. What happens, though, when all that is over? What happens when you reach the top of the nursing school mountain? Well, you look up and you see the towering peak of professional nursing ahead of you.

Yes, nursing is still a journey when school is over, and it may be even more difficult than school. As such, most new grad nurses go through a set of stages before they can confidently say they are nurses, and these stages are full of pitfalls, frustrations and wonder.


A graduate nurse.
When you are a graduate, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. And, really, you have. Not everyone makes it out of nursing school, and you should feel proud of yourself for making it this far. You will have that giddy feeling at graduation ceremonies and pinning ceremonies, thanking your loved ones for never losing faith in you.

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It’s a good time, tempered by the notion that you still have to pass boards (become registered). For most new grad nurses, the looming spectre of boards is enough to wipe that smile off your face and douse you in cold reality. So, while you may revel in the graduation and celebrate this milestone in your life, you already have the idea that the road isn’t quite yet run and you’re going to need to lace up your trainers.


Once you get your first job, you will enter the gruelling boot camp known as orientation. Honestly, this is where the rubber hits the road. No longer do you feel the elation of having made it through school; instead you are confronted with the hard, cold reality of professional nursing.

You can expect orientation to teach you everything that nursing school left out. Yes, you will have a good background on what is going on, but you will be completely lost. You will cling to your preceptor like driftwood in a raging current. This is because nursing school gives you one to two patients and orientation expects so much more than that.

Although orientation can be a difficult time for new nurses, it is the struggle through the chrysalis that will produce the beautiful butterfly in the end. You will be made into a nurse in orientation, and it will be as good a feeling to “graduate” from this part of the journey as it was from nursing school.

New Nurse

An experienced nurse helping a new nurse.
After orientation you have your full assignment/patient load, and you are responsible for what happens to them. That doesn’t mean you are alone, though. One of the great truths in nursing is that you are never alone. If your patient is doing something that you just can’t figure out, grab a more senior nurse and bring them in with you. Only by letting them help you will you continue to learn, and it is not the end of your learning when you have finished your initial orientation.

At this point on your journey to becoming an experienced ‘veteran nurse’, your charge nurse and the nurse leaders are your friends. You are going to have to lean on them considerably until you’ve gained enough experience to navigate the problems yourself. When in doubt, ask. You will learn humility as a nurse and the benefits of the team-based approach.

Make friends with the nurses who have been around awhile, who seem to know what they are doing and who are resources for everyone else. This is how you keep your patients safe and make yourself a better nurse.


A confident, experienced nurse.
The final stage in the journey of a new grad is when you are the veteran. When nurses come in who are newer than you, it may feel strange not to be the one asking all the questions. You may even find yourself asked to help a new nurse, and this is a wondrous if confusing milestone on the journey. After you have worked the floor for a while, your experience will become part of your learning and you can pass that learning on to the next nurses to come through.

When are you a veteran nurse? Some say that it is in the first year, but that isn’t a hard and fast rule. No, you are a veteran when you’ve had the experience. Remember: there will always be someone more experienced than you, and even veterans need to ask for help from time to time. It isn’t just during codes, either. Nurses are always bouncing ideas off one another, asking for input on a situation. You probably won’t even realise when you become a veteran. You’ll just know that if something starts happening you can handle it, and that’s a great feeling.

Share an experience you had as a graduate nurse.

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