First Nursing Shift Alone: 13 Tips To Avoid Failure


first nursing shift alone

It makes no difference if you are a new nurse or a seasoned nurse reporting to duty and working alone; this can spawn anxiety and dread in any nurse. Nurses report to work on a wing and a prayer because a patient’s life is in that nurse’s hand. A new nurse graduate quickly learns that they do not have all the answers because a nursing career is a lifelong learning process. 

But for now, read on for more information on how to tackle your first shift on your own. 

Don’t Give in to Overwhelm and Anxiety 

If you believe that these feelings of anxiousness and being overwhelmed are reserved only for you, a new nurse, it’s not true. You will get through the first full day of working alone. You will learn a lot and apply what you learned to the following days ahead. Know that seasoned nurses frequently feel the same way.

You must exhibit self-confidence and assertiveness. Even if you do not feel confident to care for your patient, it will show. How can your patients or co-workers trust you if you are not confident in your job? It is OK to ask questions to be sure about a procedure or action. Assert yourself with confidence.

You are off orientation but think that you need more time training on the job with a seasoned nurse? Let the nursing supervisor know how you feel.

Always plan for a day that is hectic and the worst day possible. This prepares you for what may lay ahead. 

Never Think That Your Question Is Too Stupid to Ask

Now that you are flying free stop and think about what you are doing. It is better to ask any question than to forge ahead and do the wrong thing. Every day you learn new and exciting things. Your chosen career in nursing is a learning process. 

Learn to Admit Mistakes

Nurses who go to work with a greater than thou attitude are unwilling to admit mistakes they make. Admitting mistakes makes you a better nurse. You never want to make a mistake; however, truth be known, you will find yourself in error. Every nurse makes mistakes and learns from them. 

Especially on your first shift by yourself, you will question many things that you are not sure of. 

You might not make a mistake on your first day, but the day will eventually come. Just be prepared.

The most important part is how you handle yourself. Always come clean as soon as you notice the mistake. It is safer for the patient, and it is honest and better for you in the long term. It is never a good idea to lie about it. 

Feel Incompetent and Scattered?

You are fresh out of training; never allow anyone to make you feel incompetent. You are a new nurse, and you are learning the basics. As time goes by, you will feel more confident in what you do in nursing practices. 

Hopefully, you never run into these people who have no empathy for the new nurse. If you run into these kinds of people, make this a learning lesson to never act like them, and know that you can do better. Allow their attitudes to pass without further thought. 

Related: Build Confidence as a Nurse: 5 Things to Try on Your Next Shift

Be Teachable 

Never report to work, thinking you are now not in training anymore, and you know everything about nursing because the sorry fact is you do not. Realize that all you know as a new graduate, you can fit into a thimble. Understand that nursing is a continuously evolving profession. You never stop learning until the day of retirement. Listen to what the more seasoned nurses tell you and seek their advice as they also continue to learn. 

Be Patient With Yourself 

Time management is the most difficult for new nurses. Carry a small spiral notepad in your pocket and make notes to yourself filled with short, vital reminders of what you need to do, such as patient requests, administrative requests, and more. Never think that your brain is going to help you remember multiple things you must do. Check off these items as you do them or document them. Keep your notebook with you when you are writing into the legal record of the patient. For example, 

  • Call doctor Smith about the critical lab results ordered for patient Jane Doe.
  • Jane Doe just had a pain pill, go back within the hour, and see if the pain medication was effective.

Another way to keep up with all your tasks is by using a brain sheet. You can keep all the pertinent information about your patients on this sheet. You can put a to-do list on there as well. 

TIP: toward the end of your shift conduct your own “time out.” That means you take a few minutes to see if you did everything that you were supposed to do. Did you give all the medications that were due on your shift? Did you address all the issues that came up during your shift? Did you document all the things that you were supposed to? 

Never Consider Yourself as the “Boss.”

As a new nurse off orientation and now on the floor, it stands to reason that you will have a host of employees under you. Some nurses relish the idea of being a boss to those under him or her. You are much better off when you consider yourself a team member who works with the team, not a boss directing orders here and there. 

Let your co-workers, especially techs and aides, know how you feel. You will get a lot more cooperation out of your team if you act as a team player. However, never consider yourself a friend either because it makes it doubly difficult to discipline a team member if that person finds you a friend. 

Be an Excellent Listener

Never get in the habit of talking too much. Never make a habit of giving lectures to anyone. Team members and patients are grateful to have a nurse who listens to concerns and issues and acts on these concerns when possible. 

You cannot be a good listener when your mouth is always talking. Never allow yourself to be part of the gossip circle and discourage others from gossiping. 

Never Place a Doctor or Anyone Else on a Pedestal

This is one of the most intimidating parts in this profession, but the fact is that a doctor is human and is at risk for error just like everyone else. The doctor gives you an order, and you document the order, but while doing this, a question arises that put that order in question. 

Don’t hesitate to go to that doctor to clarify the order. Ensure you have other issues to address to that doctor, so you do not have to call again. Try to address all you can think of at that moment. 

 Some doctors have complicated personalities, and some make it known that they never make mistakes. If you follow through with an order for your patient against your better judgment, and the doctor did make a mistake ordering medication or dosage, that doctor will be the first to point their finger at you. 

No doctor wants to admit an error any more then you want to admit a mistake, and some doctors try to shift the blame on you. This is not the first time that a seasoned nurse tells you to, “Cover your butt.”

Never let a doctor’s attitude prevent you from practicing caution. Following through with a medication order and dosage that did not make sense to you puts your patient in harm’s way and you might get blamed because it is your responsibility to protect your patient. You have the freedom to consult with the hospital pharmacist. 

Protect your reputation and your license you worked for so hard and ask the doctor for clarification. Clarifying orders can be from dietary, the lab, the doctor, another nurse, the director of nursing, therapy directives, and even the patient’s family members. 

Always err on the side of caution!

Don’t Wait Until the End of the Day to Chart

Chart pertinent notes on your patients when things arise. Charting as you go through your day assures a lower risk for forgetting essential issues. Protect your license and, as seasoned nurses will tell you, “Cover your butt at all costs.” Extensive and correct charting helps to keep you out of the court system. 

However, in the beginning – especially on your first day, you might feel overwhelmed and are not quite able to chart as you go. At least keep detailed notes about everything that happened with your patients. 

Be On-Time for Your Shift and Meetings 

Arrive for duty and meetings at least ten minutes early. Make it a habit of being on time. It speaks volumes about yourself and gives you time to prepare for the shift. The previous nurse is anxious to sign off and go home. That meeting you were late for had essential information you needed to hear. 

Your colleagues might not say it to your face, but it leaves a sloppy impression. Being on time or even early shows your co-workers and managers that you take your profession seriously. 

Have a Medication Reference Guide at Hand

If you are not familiar with an ordered drug, it only takes a minute or two to look up the drug on your work computer and find out what that medicine is for and what side effects may occur. Never administer a medication to your patient that you are not familiar with or know the side effects. 

In the beginning, this will slow you down, but as time goes on, you will notice that you will give the same medications over and over again. Until then, better safe than sorry! 

Be Sure to Take Care of Yourself

You cannot take excellent care of your patients if you do not take care of yourself. Never forego breaks, meal times, forget to keep hydrated, take bathroom breaks. 

Learn to pop into a non-public place on the floor to have a quick snack and water drink, and take time off when you need a vacation when the time arises. You work hard, and you deserve these things. 

Implement these things on day one. It is essential to recharge your batteries. 

Don’t even fall into the habit of believing that you are indispensable, and your company will close if you are not there. Be sure to invest in excellent footwear. Apply a back brace if you need to, to protect your back. Try hard to get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep increases your risk of serious error. 

In Conclusion

Remember, you do not have all the answers, nor do you know everything.

Remember to be empathetic towards co-workers and patients.

Remember that the nursing field has many doors of opportunity open to you and that this career evolves quickly and offers a lifetime of learning. 

But first and foremost, remember that you will never feel ready. Trust the process and take it day by day.

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