Graduating from nursing school and starting your journey as a new nurse can be daunting at first, but hearing firsthand from new nurses on how they made their way can help ease that fear. We sat down with Joseph Potts, BSN, RN, past president of the National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA) and current clinical nurse II at Orlando Health in Orlando, Fla., to discuss his journey during his first full year as a nurse in the real world.
NN: What is the biggest difference between being a practicing nurse vs. what you learned in nursing school?
Joseph: In school, we approached every issue from the perspective of “what does the science/evidence say” – things were much more black and white. In my experiences since school, things are much grayer; there are many considerations outside of the science including policies, budgets and personalities.
NN: What do you think is the most important thing for students to know as they pursue their careers in nursing?
Joseph: I hope, more than anything else, they know it is an incredibly exciting time to be a nurse. The amount of nursing research being conducted is exponentially growing our science, and has resulted in a steady increase in the pace at which barriers to nurses are being removed. All of this points toward nurses being in an excellent position to take the lead on affecting positive change in the health of our nation.
NN: Nursing can be emotionally demanding. How do you maintain your energy and a positive perspective?
Joseph: Professionally, I stay in touch with many of the friends and mentors I have made thus far in my nursing career. They are an invaluable source of knowledge, encouragement and humor. Personally, at the end of a challenging shift I get to go home to an amazing wife, who also happens to be a nurse, and a 20 month-old happy and healthy daughter.
NN: Who is your nurse mentor and why is it so important to identify a mentor to help guide you in your first years as a nurse?
Joseph: I actually have several nurse mentors. This may not be an ideal situation for other nurses but it works well for me. I know I gain a little something different from each person, and I believe that I bring something different to the table for each of them as well. Ultimately for me, a mentor/mentee relationship is very personal and organic, and cannot be forced. It is either there or it isn’t.
That being said, I have been blessed to have many amazing nurses take the time to show me the ropes. Most recently I made the transition to the emergency department, and I had a great nurse to help me navigate the new setting. She brings a lot of skill and passion to the table as a clinician and a professional. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for her as a nurse.
NN: What are the three most important things that you’ve learned in your first year as a nurse?
Joseph: You learn so much as a new nurse, so it’s hard to identify the three most important, but here are a few lessons that have really stuck out to me:
1. The first thing that comes to mind is the importance of being fully present for your patients when you are with them. Among other things, this can help prevent you from making many common mistakes or missing something important in your assessment. Most importantly though, your patients can tell when your mind is elsewhere and they deserve better than that.
2. Speaking of mistakes, another important lesson is that you are not perfect; no one is and no one should expect you to be. Understanding this will go a long way in helping you recognize and grow from learning opportunities as they present themselves.
3. Finally, carve out some time for pursuits outside of nursing. This calling is both important and rewarding, and it can be easy to lose yourself in it. However, being well-rounded ultimately leads to you being a better person and better practitioner.