New Grad: Advice To Help You Succeed At Your First Job

New grad status: Simple advice for succeeding at your first job.

You’ve graduated, passed your nursing boards, and landed your first job as a nurse. Congratulations. Your first nursing job is not only about being able to perform the job, but also about making the vital connections with your co-workers and corporate culture to improve your chances for success. You might be out of school, but now the real learning begins.


As part of the orientation process you’ll be paired with a nurse preceptor to help guide you through those first weeks/months of your career. You’re going to be working closely together, and your preceptor will be sizing you up not only by your skill set, but also your personality. Getting to know your preceptor’s work and teaching style will help you determine how these first few weeks are going to go.

Since you will be working so closely together it’s evident that how your personalities mesh will also have a strong influence on your success. This may seem controversial, but try to establish some early communication about being able to approach each other if there is a conflict and how it might be best to discuss these matters. There may be a process in handling these situations such as having an initial one-on-one conversation, or it may be protocol to have a mediator involved, but it’s good to know this right from the start. Regardless, this just establishes the idea of an open line of communication rather than ending up in a “he said, she said” situation.

Do let your preceptor know about your professional experience prior to becoming a nurse. Many of us have chosen this as a second or third career. You might have been an accountant, a teacher, worked in a restaurant, or have been a computer programmer. Whatever the case, there’s probably a good chance that some of your previous skills will help you perform in your new role.

Nurse Preceptor

Just like a discharge plan is developed upon a patient’s admission, transitioning off of orientation is also a goal for the new grad right from the beginning.  One of your first tasks is to develop a plan of care to meet your professional goals so that you can successfully come off orientation. The hospital most likely has a standard set of guidelines, but your preceptor should be helping you update this plan of care as you go along.

Asking questions and taking notes along the way will help you stay on task and organized so that your orientation will go as smoothly as possible. If a question comes up that your preceptor may not be able to answer at that moment, write it down so that you can discuss it later.


One of the first things you can do to prove your reliability and build trust is to be on time every time. Better yet, I’d recommend that you show up 20-30 minutes prior to your shift so that you’re able to get a feel for the unit’s milieu for that day, and to get a jump on reviewing the charts of the patients you’ll be working with on your shift. This will also give you an opportunity to check in with your preceptor and what daily goals you’ll be working on.

By being on time your proving both your reliability and your desire to be there. This simple gesture will carry a lot of weight with your team and your personal brand. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to stand out, and being timely is certainly something to be known for.

Group of Nurses


Trying to figure out where everything is on the floor/unit is usually the hardest task, but remembering everyone’s names and what their roles are can also be a challenge. Make an effort to meet everyone, try to sit with new people at lunch, bond, and gain some trust. You may think that you have a skill set that your new employer was after, but one of the most important aspects of your interviewing and hiring process was to figure out if you fit into the culture. You may have graduated at the top of your class, and you might have had some previous work experience, but you can’t put “culture fit” on a resume.

Take the opportunity to learn about who your co-workers are outside of work (if they share this information). This will also establish the feeling that you’re invested in being a part of a team.


I know this seems like a given and you will of course be asking a lot of questions. But, don’t ever stop no matter how seasoned you become. Your colleagues want nothing more than for you to be able to do your job correctly and to deliver safe patient care. One of the best ways to establish a collaborative approach is to ask questions.

Do take some initiative especially if you have an understanding about the task. Think about what you should be doing next and what tasks need to be completed to get there.


You’ll probably quickly realize that you’ve just entered a pretty demanding career. Unfortunately, nurses (and many other healthcare professionals) get so caught up in caring for others that they tend to neglect their own needs in the process. I shouldn’t have to tell you that this isn’t a sustainable way to practice, but I will. It’s not at all sustainable and if you want to have a long healthy career in nursing I’d suggest you dial in your own self-care. Elizabeth Scala, a great friend and colleague contributed a wonderful post about how this isn’t a selfish approach.

African American Sitting on Beach

Demands on your time can come from both work and at home. Be open to suggestions on how to streamline tasks at work so that you’re able to take a break throughout your workday. Also establish an open line of communication with friends and family about what they’re asking of you and how you can effectively meet the need without giving too much of yourself.

You’re not going to be able to do it all, and those around you shouldn’t expect you to overextend yourself time and time again. We’ve all had to spread ourselves a little thin at times, but don’t fall into that pattern. Get comfortable with saying no.

Nursing is a very creative job that comes with a  fine balance of trying to maintain a consistent work ethic while still being able to give yourself the needed “you time” to thrive.

Keep your head on a swivel, form connections, collaborate, and be open for just about anything.

scrubsmag blog carnival

This post is part of the Scrubs Magazine Blog Carnival. If you’re a nurse blogger and would like to participate, then what are you waiting for? Supporting each other and collaborating has never been this easy. Check out the first round of nurse bloggers hosted over at The Nerdy Nurse.


  1. elizabeth scala on July 15, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Great post InnovativeNurse Thanks for the shout-out! I LOVE your idea about being on time. 20-30 minutes sounds overwhelming and stressful when you first read it… but then if you think about it- getting there earlier, being ready and familiar, and being prepared… that will ensure (for the most part) that you can GET OUT on time!! Always make an effort to get out on time. Do not let yourself get into the habit of “staying late to finish a few things”. I used to have a colleague who would be there 2-3 hours after his shift ended. OMG. Talk about burnout. You cannot do it all new grads. There is a reason why there is the next shift. Let people help you!  Kevin, awesome awesome article filled with great points! Thank you.

  2. innovativenurse on July 15, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thanks CoachScala. 20-30 minutes early may seem overwhelming. But you’re right on the points of being ready and prepared. If you’re ready to hit the ground running, then you’ll most likely avoid hitting the ground from stress and exhaustion.

  3. elizabeth scala on July 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    innovativenurse Right on! Coming from a space of mindful presence helps us be productive and efficient. :- )

  4. selfemployednurse on July 15, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Great Tips for New Nurse Grads! I can not agree with you more about how important it is to socially interact with your co-workers! It can definitely make or break you in some work cultures.
     Loved that you shared the Scrubs Carnival Image in your post. I shared on social media but didn’t include it in my post. Why did I think of that?

  5. innovativenurse on July 16, 2013 at 8:01 am

    selfemployednurse It can get hard being away from friends and family for such extended periods of time, and making these “friendly” connections  with coworkers can certainly help, especially since we spend so much time together. I had some really good times with friends at work when I was at the bedside, and I continue to maintain a deeper connection with those that I work with now.

  6. Nurse Blog Carnival Gems | Big Red Carpet Nursing on January 28, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    […] New Grad: Advice to Help You Succeed At Your First Job by Kevin Ross. Although the title says otherwise, I found Kevin’s advice useful for new jobs, […]

  7. […] New Grad: Advice to Help You Succeed At Your First Job by Kevin Ross. Although the title says otherwise, I found Kevin’s advice useful for new jobs, […]

  8. […] New Grad: Advice To Help You Succeed At Your First Job is a first full of tips that will help new nurses make the most of the new grad experience. He suggests getting to know your preceptor and the other people you work with. He’s also got a few other gems that will make your life easier. […]

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