We have all been there. We all know the anxiety. The first day in a new unit. Remember? The uncertainty. The expectations. Will they like me? Can I do the job? You feel like all eyes are on you. And there’s nothing worse than the hostile stare, or worse, the indifferent silence. The Muse RN wrote about the newbie nurse phenomenon on her blog a couple of weeks ago. Her take is that nurse newcomers ought to keep their heads down, bribe the old birds with baked goods, smile a lot, and above all, shut up. ”You are here to learn our ways, not the reverse,” she writes.” You were chosen from a handful or more of others to join us – don’t make us doubt our hiring abilities by becoming obnoxious about ‘how you do it.’”
My own perspective is a bit different. It’s obvious that new (to the unit) nurses need to adapt to local norms and mores, and the initial time of employment is inevitably a time of socialization and formal and informal evaluation. But remember, the new nurse on the block is sizing up you. He’s seeing how you and your colleagues are going to treat him, and whether you all live up to the hype. So it’s a two-way street. I would probably go further and say that the onus is with the nurses on the unit to make sure the new hire’s transition is smooth.
I say this for some simple, self-interested, pragmatic reasons. Unit cohesion and teamwork means better patient outcomes, and making a new nurse “pay her dues” is probably not the best way to go about it. What’s more, every unit wants low staff turn-over and a cadre of experienced nurses taking care of patients. The time to ensure new hires are successfully integrated into a unit is in the first few months of employment. A nurse who is treated poorly on arrival by his colleagues — and we have all seen it — will remember the slights and insults for a long time. She will fulfil all your expectations of bad behaviour and bail at the first opportunity. Is that really productive? Do you want to be known as the unit that eats all the new hires live?
I speak here from personal experience, as you might guess. I was thinking of the times I was the new nurse, and I came up with a little list, some thoughts to consider from when I was in the position of being the newest colleague.
Take the time to welcome me. Really. It makes a big difference and doing so (or not) may shape our working relationship for years.
Make a point in including me in outside-work activities.
Remember I came here because I heard this was a great place to work. Don’t disappoint me.
Whether I am an old nurse with years of experience and perspective behind me, or a new grad with up-to-date knowledge of best practice, I have something to contribute. Don’t dismiss me because “that’s not the way it’s done here.” Consider your opportunity to learn from me is as great as my opportunity to learn from you.
Acknowledge my existence.
Treat me collegially, not like some not-quite-bright child. Don’t talk down to me, and don’t be patronizing or condescending. Remember, I’m an RN, fully qualified and a professional who deserves respect and courtesy, just like you.
Cut me some slack if I don’t have the routines down right away. You’ve been here for years. I’ve been here a few days.
By the same token, don’t roll your eyes at me if I can’t find that special epidural needle the paediatrican prefers.
If I seem to make a lot of suggestions about improving conditions or processes, have the insight to realize I’m still in the honeymoon phase, and still new and enthusiastic. Or better yet, take advantage of that enthusiasm. Get me to sit on a committee, or work on a special project.
Bottom line: be kind and act with empathy and insight. Be nurses. If you don’t remember, being the new nurse on the unit is a lot harder than you dealing with the minor annoyances they create.