I’ve been receiving tons of messages from nurses starting the profession (graduate nurses) or nurses transitioning to a new position (for example: from medical-surgical to the intensive care setting) with questions regarding professional growth. When you start a new post, regardless of history, there will always be a time of adjustment. A time where you are asking a ton of questions and feeling uneasy about your ability to perform your role. It can be stressful because you don’t know what you don’t know, and you’re learning as you go. Understand every nurse experiences this.
Your professional growth will vary from your counterparts so, do not compare your tracks or personal goals. In my personal opinion, it will take around SIX MONTHS to acclimate to a new setting. And by acclimating, I’m referring to the ability to perform the job with minimal to no assistance and to independently locate the resources needed to complete the job. So what does all this mean? It means that from 0 to 180 days or so, you SHOULD be asking many questions and still be at a loss as to what to do in some moments. There might even be times where you need someone to walk you through what to do. Don’t judge yourself or think you aren’t getting it. Nursing involves many layers of care and knowledge.
It’s not meant to be grasped quickly. Healthcare requires you to be continually evolving and it is a changing environment. It’s a complex, dynamic profession. Which means it will take months to become proficient and safe. Let’s understand why and help you in this time of anxiety.
Alright, let’s dive deep into why this extended time frame is necessary. As a nurse, I’ve been trained as a graduate nurse on a progressive care floor, then from progressive care to intensive care, and then from private-sector to government-sector nursing. Each time, I gave myself six months to get my act together. I didn’t judge myself because nursing is unapologetically changing and morphing into what communities need it to be. Each shift, you are given patients who are critically ill.
These patients require your attention and critical thinking abilities. Each disease process is presented differently, with each patient reacting uniquely to ordered therapies. This profession isn’t like opening a register and giving someone money, it’s complicated and involved. You won’t be comfortable until you’ve managed a fair amount of patients, which is why I recommend the six-month mark. By six months, you should have seen most of your patient population. Six months is an appropriate amount of time to assess your skill level and critical thinking abilities. I know it seems like a long time, but it isn’t. You must be emersed in your patient population to accurately assess your level of competence and to properly evaluate your job performance.
If this process is rushed, it could result in your leaving a position you would have been great at given the appropriate amount of time to discover your strengths. You got this, all day! Lean into the learning process and understand how complicated your job truly is. Give it time, allow yourself time to absorb things. It took me six to seven months to get “comfortable” at my job. And by “comfortable” I mean, not freaking out all the time due to fear, and being more independent. Nursing isn’t a professional you will ever be entirely comfortable in, things change second to second. Understand the environment and do the best you can, but please don’t judge or compare yourself to others. We all learn at our own pace. Take a deep breath and take it one day at a time, allow yourself to adapt to the new setting. You will find your stride soon enough.
If by the sixth month, you see no growth, and you still see yourself struggling to grasp nursing concepts, I recommend you speak to your manager or unit educator. There is a disconnect somewhere and getting them involved might assist you in finding where or what it is. We can’t always see our flaws or areas we need to work on. Getting others involved in your educational plan is a great idea. Remember, this isn’t a contest. You aren’t competing with anyone. The goal is to learn and grow. Before I was a nurse, I worked in retail. My learning curve is enormous. I didn’t think I could do this in month three. I kept messing up. I kept forgetting things, important things. But by the fifth month, I was just fine. Time is crucial to change. You will get there.