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Surviving Your First Year as a Critical Care Nurse

January 21st, 2011


No matter what type of nurse you are, your very first year will be bring on new and challenging experiences that nursing school mostly likely did not prepare you for. Especially if you are a critical care nurse, your first year can be exceptionally demanding and overwhelming. In fact, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, about 13 percent of all new critical care nurses change units or switch professions all together after their first year. While you may not want to be a part of these statistics, it can happen if you are unaware of what to expect your first year. Continue reading below to get some insight of how your first year will be and to learn some key survival tips that will hopefully make your first year a successful one.

The very first thing you will endure is orientation. This can last up to just a few weeks or even months depending on the facility's procedures regarding new hires. During orientation, you will mostly likely feel as though you are still a nursing student—this is a "learning" segment and you will be doing more observing than actual direct-patient treatment. You will shadow other nurses and learn who your preceptor is. At this time ask tons of questions so that you can familiarize yourself with specific health care protocols and procedures. Once you're on your own, the environment will be very fast-paced (especially in understaffed facilities) and you don't want to risk making mistakes because you're overwhelmed. So pay very close attention to what your superiors/trainers say and take notes if need be. It's also important that you continue to ask questions throughout the entire first year—remember you're still theoretically in training since you will basically learn something new every day.

After a few weeks you will be released on your own. During this time you will be assigned an array of different duties, including distributing medication and treatment, recording medical histories and consulting with other physicians and health care professionals. While you may be accustomed to doing only a set of duties it's important that you prepare yourself for the unexpected. Meaning, you might have to put in more hours on some days because of additional paperwork that needs to be filled out or a patient who is under your care codes literally 5 minutes before your shift is over.

During your first year you will also learn that many of the other nurses are a lot older and can sometimes be "set in their ways," making it difficult for some of the younger RN's to get close to them. So just be prepared for age gaps and personality conflicts.

Lastly, be prepared for good days and bad. You may feel like a hero one day, and then like a failure the next. It's highly important that no matter what you try to stay positive and don't doubt your nursing skills. And always try to find time to unwind and de-stress, even if it's something as simple as taking time to enjoy your whole lunch break.