“Let Me Go Ask Your Nurse…” Tackling the Transition from Student RN to THE Nurse

We’ve all done it. You jump straight from nursing school clinicals to the world of bedside nursing. Patients bombard you with question after question after question. You exhaust our knowledge and follow up with, “I don’t know; let me go ask your nurse.” But then it hits you – you ARE THE nurse!! Congratulations!?! Feeling some mixed emotions, huh? The days of scapegoating answers onto the primary nurse are long gone, but fear not! The transition is terrifying, but not without a few #NurseLifeHacks.

1. It’s OKAY to admit you don’t have all the answers.

Patients appreciate the fact that you aren’t a walking medical encyclopedia. In fact, people who walk around as if they know all the answers are a HUGE red flag. When faced with a question that you just aren’t sure of, be honest! “I don’t know, but I can find that answer for us”.

2. Time management is key.

By now you’re mastering the skill of who to see first, but what about the rest of your day? Taking a brief glance at your worklist for each patient that day can help you sort what things are a priority and what can wait. Baby aspirin and a signed consent form for a heart catheterization later this morning – that’s a NOW thing. Lactulose enema for the total care patient – that can potentially wait 30 minutes. And about that worklist…

3. You can’t do EVERYTHING for EVERY patient on EVERY shift.

Some days your worklist will be stacked against you, so look for the heavy hitters. Delegate the things that are within your staffs’ scope to complete, while you tackle the others – time sensitive medications, infection prevention measures like PICC line and foley care, or taking a 10 minute break for a quick snacky snack and some much needed hydration. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup!

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4. Don’t be too big to ask for help.

Tag team the things that require additional hands with your NT or CNA – Daily CHG bath with foley care and q2 turning, Code Brown cleanup with your morning sacral foam check, or getting orthostatic vitals on your +2 assist patient and wrapping up the session with ambulation to the bathroom (PT/OT will LOVE you!). Your tasks are now done, you promoted staff teamwork, and patient safety was maintained. That’s a win/win/WIN! Worklist still not done? Still not problem!

5. Have an honest conversation with the oncoming shift.

Don’t talk circles around the wound dressing that you just couldn’t get to. Highlight the things you did knock out and cut to the chase on those you didn’t. “Hey, this patient had a lot of needs today. I did the PICC line dressing and enema but couldn’t fit in the bandage change.” Your team will appreciate you being upfront about the patient’s needs that are still pending. There’s nothing worse than doing charting cleanup in the last hour of your shift and finding unfinished tasks that the prior shift didn’t do and didn’t disclose to you in shift change report. So be transparent! Afterall,

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6. Remember that you, too, are human.

You’re a nurse because you showed the ability to think critically and do what’s safe for your patient. Not a 100% IV start rate. Not a 100% worklist completed each day.

Not because you know every med in the Drug Book. Give yourself some grace. That big brain that helps you think critically also comes stock with a plethora of emotions. Some days you’ll be on top of the world because you caught those stroke-like symptoms and alerted your charge nurse. Other shifts you’ll collapse into a cold car in the parking garage and just sit and ugly cry for 10 minutes straight – because you feel like all you did was chase the MAR and didn’t really make a difference. Bottom line is that you operated as a safe nurse, and you maintained patient safety. The rest is just fluff.

Let’s normalize the humanity of nursing, not perfection. It’s a fast-paced field where the transition from “this is what the book says” to “this is how it’s done IRL” can be a bit rocky. Learn to lean on your knowledge and your resources, admit that you’re not Superman, and build stability into your worklist where you can. Remember to take time to feel those emotions when they pop up. Lastly, even as THE nurse, you can still take comfort in squeezing in the occasional “I’m not sure; let me ask your Provider”.

Erica D. Mena, RN, CQIA, CQT

Author Bio

Erica Mena is a former recent New Grad RN with experience in Emergency Medicine and Cardiology. She enjoys debunking the stereotypes around new grad nursing as well as empowering patients through educational writing. She is adamant that informed people are empowered people.

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