Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Soft Landing for New Nurses

In speaking with a number of new nurses over the years, something that I consistently hear is that new nurses are often not given the guidance, nurturing and mentoring that they truly need to move beyond surviving to thriving in their new careers. New nurses need a "soft landing" as they enter the field, and it's up to us seasoned nurses to make sure that they get it.

If you're a nurse, remember back to when you were new to the profession. What was it like when you began your first job? Did you feel properly prepared? Were you scared to death? Did you feel like an imposter? Was it like you had ten thumbs and couldn't remember anything you'd learned? Did you feel like your education had been a waste of time and you should simply return to waiting tables?

Many new nurses feel like imposters, and while they're scared to death to make an error and harm or kill a patient, they're also often lonely, disconnected, and needing support as they find their "nurse legs".

Seasoned nurses have been known to roll their eyes when a new grad gets hired, thinking only of themselves and how that novice nurse will just create more work for them in terms of teaching, guiding and assisting the new arrival.

However, that cynical seasoned nurse needs to remember how it was when he or she began their career, and how one helpful and supportive colleague can absolutely change the entire trajectory and tenor of the first months in any new nurse's career.

That's How It's Always Been

Having said that, some nurses will recall with great rancor (and a strange and vaguely sick pride) that their first days or months as a new nurse were fraught with loneliness, poor mentorship, and a "pick-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps" individualism. And since some nurses receive shoddy treatment and poor guidance when they start out, they simply decide that it's just "the way things are" and they subsequently choose to perpetuate that negative cycle by being just as unhelpful and belligerent as the nurses who "welcomed" them to the profession.

It doesn't have to be this way, and employers, nurses and administrators need to realize that a "soft landing" for new grads is a good tactic to adopt, providing all manner of mentoring, precepting, training and support so that new nurses begin their careers with the knowledge that their success matters.

A New Paradigm

In the new nursing and healthcare paradigm that some of us are attempting to create, new nurses are welcomed into the fold with open arms, guided into positions where their strengths can be celebrated, their weaknesses gently addressed, and their fears allayed. In this new world, graduate nurses are seen as the nurses of the future, the nurses who may one day care for our parents, our loved ones, and maybe even us as we grow older or become infirm.

Residency programs, precepting, mentoring, and using a team approach can change the calculus of the new grad's experience immensely, and these processes can also be very helpful and satisfying for the seasoned nurses who take on the task of guiding new nurses to their full potential. 

It's For All of Us

Nursing just doesn't need to care for those of us who've been here for a while. We also need to care for those who've just entered the fray, and what better way to do just that but by offering the support that we all should have received--and perhaps, sadly, did not.

When we support and nurture a new nurse, we don't just benefit that particular new grad, although that is a wonderful thing in and of itself. When we perform this service, we benefit the colleagues who work with that confident new nurse and the patients who receive that nurse's care. The ripple effect of that positive experience and nurturing reverberates far and wide, and as that new nurse grows into a mature and seasoned nursing professional, she or he then brings that sense of self into their lives, and can subsequently share that self-esteem and strong clinical experience with others, both personally and professionally.

New nurses are a boon to the profession and to the healthcare industry at large. New grads are the lifeblood and the lifeline for nursing and for healthcare. Let's welcome, nurture and support them as they deserve. In return, their confident professionalism and well-honed clinical skills will pay dividends far beyond what we can predict or hope for.

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