5 Mistakes Most New Graduate Nurses Make

New nurses are often terrified of making a mistake. They graduate nursing school, go through a nurse residency program or some other kind of orientation, and then they enter “real world” nursing. It can be hard for a new graduate nurse to perform in the world of professional nursing.

No new nurse wants to make a mistake. Obvious, but true. And yet, at times, mistakes are made… without the new graduate nurse even realizing that an error occurred.

What can we do about this? How can the nursing profession help new graduate nurses feel comfortable in their roles?

Here Are 5 Mistakes Most New Graduate Nurses Make… And How to Help Them!

1. They don’t ask for help.

New grads want to fit in. They aim to please the more experienced nurses and interdisciplinary colleagues that they work with. So, if a more experienced co-worker or supervisory type person comes up to them during the work day and says, “How are you doing?” What do you think that they say? You got it! “I’m fine.” The conversation continues on with… “Do you need any help?” And, in an attempt to appear strong and independent, the new grad responds with: “Nope. I am all good here.”

We need to encourage new grad nurses to ask for help. They are fresh out of nursing school and they do not know it all. Additionally, we need to eliminate the perception that the nurse is a superhero, able to do it all on their own. As colleagues of the new graduate nurse, we need to pull them aside. Take them away from peers and the worry that their co-workers will “find them out”. Take the new graduate nurse off of the unit and talk to them about the importance of teamwork. Encourage training or workshops where the new grad can realize that more gets done when working collaboratively with colleagues. Help them to see that they do not have to do it all on their own.

2. They don’t know what they don’t know.

This is actually a really scary place to be. A new grad nurse, not knowing what they do not know, may incorrectly assume that everything is going fine at work. They may miss a critical lab value or overlook a subtle sign or symptom. With oversight such as this a new grad places themselves at higher risk for making a mistake.

As more experienced nurses, we need to constantly provide teaching and the environment for new nurses to learn. And remember- not all adults learn in the same way! We need to offer nursing professionals opportunities to learn in teams, on their own, at workshops, or through books. Provide online as well as in-person learning. Do quick updates and short huddles before each shift. Bring teaching points to every staff meeting or group discussion. And hey… as we teach the new graduate nurses what they may not know… we refresh the more experienced nurses techniques and skills!

3. They don’t feel confident.

A new graduate nurse is likely feeling nervous. And hey. I would be too! Nursing can seem overwhelming. There is so much to learn and it can be a lot to take in. In one day alone, a new nurse has to retain so much information that he or she may question whether or not they are getting it all.

Since this is so common, we need to tell this to the new nurses. Literally go over the fact that nursing is a tough profession and everyone has felt this way. Allow them space to share their experiences, ask questions, and talk through concerns. Provide space to roll play difficult conversations. Encourage them to stretch outside of their comfort zone. And remind them that they went through a heck of a lot of training to get where they are at. They do know more than they think that they do. We need to support them in their growth as new nurses and confident professionals.

4. They don’t take care of themselves.

Easily one of the biggest mistakes made by any nurse, really. Putting patients, staff, and everybody first is a common mistake made in the nursing profession. Often new grads feel intense pressure during nursing school. And while many of them think that this will let up after exams are over and clinicals are passed, this is not the case. The real world of nursing hits and it is just as busy, if not more busy, than nursing school was.

What can we do to help the newer nurses take better care of themselves? Well, I have found that adult learners are tricky. They will hear what you say, but do what you do. Hmm.. that sounds a lot like children too! In all seriousness, no adult wants to be “told” what to do. Instead, they watch the more experienced nurses, learn the culture of the workplace, and then fall into the same habits they maintained in nursing school. If we want our new grads to take care of themselves, we need to role model this behavior. At the organizational level, we need to create cultures that value the health and well-being of the nurse. And individual nurses need to take action in order to maintain wellness strategies that they will actually do.

5. They don’t celebrate themselves.

A new grad finishes school and what happens next? Time to study for and pass the NCLEX. And then? Well, they better find a job and put that license to work. It is one thing after another. After another and another. There is no time to pause. No stopping to celebrate. We often overlook how far we have come.

We, as more experienced nurses, need to teach new graduates that success is a good thing. It is not something to be ashamed of, feel shy about, or diminish. When you receive a “Thank you” or a job “Well done” actually pause to acknowledge and feel that. And guess what? Looking back at how far you have come can do wonders for your self-worth and confidence! You have accomplished so much already as it is that taking the time to celebrate your wins will only propel you forward to more great accomplishments!

What did we miss? What mistakes have you made as a new graduate nurse? Or what mistakes have you seen new grads make where you work? Be sure to Tweet me @ElizabethScala to let me know. Thanks for reading and feel free to share with a colleague!

Elizabeth Scala

Keynote speaker and bestselling author, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week ‘Art of Nursing’ program, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver.Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and a playful pit bull.