It might seem a long way off at times but one day in the not-too-distant future you’ll have finished your studies and proudly wear the title of registered nurse. But then what?
After years of hard work, learning, essays, placements, stress, financial strain, exams and moments of wonder, the idea of finally getting that gleaming pin makes you feel happy, excited, and… probably more than a little terrified.
Suddenly the end of the tunnel starts to loom – but what’s waiting on “the other side” and how can you prepare for it?
We ask four newly qualified nurses (NQNs) from across the different disciplines to answer questions about their own experience of transitioning from student to NQN.
How will I know if I’m choosing the right first job?
When it comes to finding a job, it’s a two-way street
Lyndsey: Deciding on your first real job as a nurse can be a daunting process. What’s key is remembering that although you obviously want to make a good impression, you also need to find out how the trust or organisation is going to support you as an NQN and help develop your skills.
Charlotte: Don’t be scared to ask what they are offering you. You are bringing valuable skills to their team so make sure you ask questions, find out what preceptorship programme they offer and whether this is the right place for you and your development.
But remember, there is no such thing as the perfect first job. And that’s OK
Rebecca: A lot of students nearing registration panic about finding that elusive “perfect” first job and stress that they will make the wrong decision. The truth is, this job doesn’t exist. But that’s OK because this is just the very beginning of your career and you will continue to learn and change your mind and direction all the time. It’s just a jumping off point.
Kelly: There are ways though to try and give yourself the best chance of finding a good fit. Ask to shadow trusts or departments you think you might be interested in but maybe couldn’t get a placement in. This will give you a chance to see a bit more before you make a decision.
Joining the register isn’t the end of the journey, it’s just the beginning
Familiarity or somewhere new?
Charlotte: I chose to take up a place in a completely new trust. I wanted a clean slate so that I would be seen and respected as a registered nurse rather than working with people who had known me as a student.
It seemed like a good idea at the time but actually the reality of being an NQN has been much more challenging than I anticipated and having to also adjust to a whole new workplace and teammates added to this.
Kelly: Yes, there is a lot to be said for having some familiarity as an NQN. Working in an environment you know, with people who already know you can take some of the stress away and provide you with an immediate support network. But it is important to also see that this is another learning opportunity and you should be looking for an area where you can continue to develop new knowledge and skills.
There should be some challenge, some room for growth. Joining the register isn’t the end of the journey, it’s just the beginning.
Will I be able to handle the responsibility?
Things are going to change, suddenly
Charlotte: Nothing can fully prepare you for suddenly having the responsibility of being a registered nurse – but it’s important to at least be aware of how different it will be to being a student. You are no longer under supervision and people will look to you to make decisions and get things done.
But this doesn’t mean you’re on your own
Lyndsey: Just because you’re no longer a student, doesn’t mean you don’t have support. From your preceptorship programme to your colleagues, you have a network available to you. Make sure you use it and don’t feel like you can’t ask for help.
Don’t feel like you can’t ask for help
Rebecca: And more than that, no one nurse should ever feel like it’s all on their shoulders. It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself, especially when you’re newly qualified – but we are all part of a team.
You don’t know everything, and you never will
Kelly: This is a good thing to realise! Nursing is an ever growing and changing profession. New challenges, new environments and new skills will come your way throughout your career. So it’s OK that you don’t know everything as an NQN. Nobody does.
Lyndsey: And it’s much better to admit that you’re not sure about something than to guess. You don’t want to put your PIN at risk just to save face or because you’re scared to ask for help.
What if I don’t enjoy it or can’t cope?
Always remember why you became a nurse
Rebecca: Nursing is a wonderful profession, but it isn’t an easy one. We all know that already. But amid the difficulties, the criticism, dealing with death and with traumatic situations, the reason you became a nurse in the first place is still there. Reminding yourself of this will help you get through those harder days.
Never forget who you are and what you stand for
Rebecca: It can be difficult to speak up as a newly qualified member of the team. You don’t feel like you have the right to voice concerns and will be worried that it won’t be received well. But it’s important to remain true to your own convictions and know that you have every right to raise concerns if you have them.
Always keep your own wellbeing in mind and look after yourself
Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling
Charlotte: When you start as an NQN, it’s very tempting to pretend that you’re coping fine with everything – even when you aren’t. Just as when you’re a student, it’s important to make self-care a priority and recognise when things are getting on top of you.
Rebecca: Just because you’re now a registered nurse, it doesn’t mean you’re invincible or infallible to emotion or stress. Always keep your own wellbeing in mind and look after yourself.
With thanks to our NQN members
Lyndsey Curtis-Dawson RNC, Children’s Emergency Department, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust
Charlotte Hall RN, Acute Medical, Gloucester Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock RMN, South Derbyshire and Dales Community Mental Health Team, Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation Trust
Rebecca Herdman RNLD, Community Learning Disability Nurse, Norfolk Community Health and Care
The RCN has a really useful online money guide for newly qualified nurses to help you navigate your finances after graduation.
As an RCN member, you also have access to a whole host of other member support services, from career guidance to free counselling.
Join a community of supportive newly qualified nurses online with the RCN's NQN Network group on Facebook.