Guide to Your First Nursing Job

Posted August 4, 2017 | By Tricia Hussung

Torso with blue scrubs, stethescope, and pen with title text overlay

The first year on the job can be difficult for new nurses, with obstacles you never considered and big changes from nursing school. Especially for those who work in hospitals, the first year can be grueling. Monster cites research from Johns Hopkins that “new nurse graduates account for more than half of the turnover rate in some hospitals,” a notable statistic.

Hospitals are a high-stakes nursing environment because the sickest patients are there, meaning that new nurses need “good clinical judgment and the ability to recognize when a patient needs immediate intervention – challenges that are especially pronounced in a nurse’s first year of employment,” the same article explains. But with the right tools and approaches, you can make sure your first nursing job is a success. The following information and tips will help you get your career off to a strong start. 

What to Expect from Your First Nursing Job

Here are a few things you can expect to encounter in your first nursing position and how to respond:

Team dynamics

You will likely be working on a team with nurses of varying experience levels. It’s important to respect the nurses who have been in the field longer than you have. This will help you avoid personality conflicts. Be open to learning new or different ways of doing certain tasks as well.

Technical knowledge vs. application

Nursing school is very different from nursing practice, which is something you’ll soon find out. As Minority Nurse puts it, “The ultimate goal of nursing school is to teach one how to pass NCLEX. A nurse’s first year on the job teaches the individual how to be a nurse.” You have the technical knowledge you need, but during your first year, you’ll gain the knowledge that comes with execution and experience.


As a new nurse, be prepared to work longer shifts and get last priority for time off. You may not get the shifts you most want to work just starting out, and your 12-hour shifts may end up being longer “when you factor in commute times, codes at shift change, or a lengthy report,” Minority Nurse explains.

Tips for Succeeding as a New Nurse

The following are some valuable tips for first-time nurses.

Continue your education

In the nursing field, lifelong learning is key. Your first year of nursing is a critical time to build your knowledge base by learning new processes, medications, terms and diagnoses, Minority Nurse says. You should also learn more about the roles of other health care professionals. Modern care delivery is extremely collaborative, so knowing how others contribute can help improve patient outcomes. Because earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing is an emerging standard for many roles, it’s also a good idea to start thinking about continuing your formal education by earning an RN to BSN degree.

Secure a mentor or join a preceptor program

New nurses have greater success when they can work closely with a preceptor or mentor on the job. A preceptor is “a teacher and coach who helps nurses become oriented and familiar with a facility’s routines, procedures and people,” according to Monster. It’s also a good idea to find out about support programs that may be available to you. This might mean working closely with a more experienced nurse. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, because it’s better to get assistance than to make a mistake that could impact a patient’s heath.

Build relationships

As a new nurse, having friends and coworkers you can rely on at work is important. You can build relationships with other nurses by offering to assist with a procedure, transporting a patient, getting supplies and more. Creating friendly working relationships can go a long way toward making your life easier.

Stay motivated

A great way to avoid feeling overwhelmed during your first nursing job is by focusing on the positive aspects of what you do. You became a nurse to help others, and you get to do that each day. Donna Cardillo, “The Inspiration Nurse,” notes that setting goals and tracking your progress in a journal can also be helpful. “When you go back to read the journal after several months, you’ll see that you’ve come a long way and have moved beyond many of the fears that you initially had,” she explains.

Concordia University, St. Paul offers an online RN to BSN designed for registered nurses who are interested in deepening their knowledge of nursing practice and advancing their careers. It combines theoretical inquiry and practical application to give students insight into ethics, evidence-based practice, collaboration, care coordination, community health and more. Coursework prepares students to be leaders and lifelong learners in the nursing field.