What I wish I had known before becoming a nurse

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Written by Ingrid Vennonen, UTS Bachelor of Nursing (Graduate Entry) graduate (2017)

There’s no question about it, nursing isn’t for everyone. Blood, vomit and other bodily fluids are all part of the job. Sometimes these things can be overlooked and sometimes not. Before starting university and during, every nursing student paints an idea in their head about what working as a nurse will be like; some are more accurate than others.

Here are 8 things I’d recommend nursing students learn early on their way to becoming a registered nurse:

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#1: Networking is invaluable

Having a well-established network generally means you will be more successful. Why? Think about the last time you needed a hairdresser or a dentist… who did you ask? Most likely, it was someone you already knew and you probably valued their opinion to not look elsewhere. This is the same in business relationships; knowing the right people may be more valuable than getting great scores at university.

Networking will help you to develop professional relationships, meet prospective mentors, future referees, clients. It will also ensure that you stay on top of industry trends, get connected to new job opportunities, improve your personal skills and gain access to necessary resources which could help your career development.

The easiest way to start building your network is to build on the relationships you already have around you such as friends, family, classmates and colleagues. Additionally, attending meetings and social events hosted by your workplace or university is another great way to get started and connect with people in your field. For final year nursing and midwifery students at UTS, the Nursing and Midwifery Careers Fair will be held on Thursday 30 May 2019 – which is a great opportunity for you to start building your networks.

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#2: Take every opportunity to learn more

Once you’ve graduated, the learning curve doesn’t stop or ease off. Once you enter the workforce, you realise how much you don’t know. Taking every opportunity there is to learn and practicing as many skills as possible will be beneficial to your work, to you and to your patients. By simply knowing how to perform a skill with confidence decreases your stress levels of either attempting the skill without feeling confident or having to find someone else to do your work for you and therefore taking up more of your time and theirs.

Learning opportunities include attending inservices, signing up for short courses, completing work online and attentively watching other health professionals and colleagues. Take note of where you don’t feel confident: acknowledge this and then start to work on improving these skills. YouTube can be a great place to start!

#3: You can find a job that works for you

Don’t settle for the first job you are offered if it doesn’t resonate with you; there is a world of possibilities out there in nursing. Believe it or not, the hospital isn’t the only place to get a job. Other work places include general practices, in home care, nursing homes, research work, cruise ships and the military plus much more. There are many different ‘kinds’ of nurses out there. Different nursing jobs offer a variety of different schedules. If you can be flexible, you can find options to work only weekends, two days a week, only night shifts, only day shifts, early shifts or late shifts only, casual shifts, 12-hour shifts, 8-hour shifts and others.

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#4: Put your health first

From working in healthcare, we all know our health is important. However, the benefits of being healthy, mentally and physically, in nursing is huge. Nursing is a profession where you are most likely to be on your feet all day, constantly moving about and in contact with sick people. Being fit enough to keep up with the day means you won’t be as physically exhausted by the end of it. Make time to exercise and to stretch most days of the week. Also, prioritise your nutrition by preparing food for work and eating well outside of work too. This will mean you aren’t ‘hangry’ at work, you will be able to manage your stress better and your immune system will be better off, ensuring that you can fight off any viruses or bacteria you may come in contact with from your patients. The healthier and fitter you are, the easier your job will be.

#5: Comfort is key

An uncomfortable shoe, sock or hair tie can add a lot unnecessary frustration to your day! Invest in supportive, waterproof (no wet feet needed here!) shoes, compression socks to help blood circulation, sports bras over normal bras and spare hair ties.

#6: Your advice will be asked for outside of work

Once people know you’re a nurse, you may encounter situations where people will want or expect your free medical advice. You may also find people are unusually more comfortable with you than others and end up showing you or talking openly about their health problems at parties or the like! In these situations, you must make an independent, in-the-moment decision with how to best handle the situation. Having a kind answer to avoid giving advice may be helpful to prepare in these circumstances. However, ultimately, it is your decision if you do want to give advice or not.

#7: Start practising your phone voice

Nurses spend a substantial amount of time on the phone communicating with other departments in the hospital, pharmacies, laboratories, case managers or other health professionals. Depending on where you work, you may also be expected to do telephone triages, which requires a specific set of skills to assess the patient’s condition over the phone, to understand the patient and also to reassure the patient whilst deciding what is the best plan of action for them.

Confidence in speaking on the phone is important and will increase your communication skills ensuring you are getting and sharing the correct information.

#8: Prepare and be prepared

Lastly, keep in mind that while there will be challenging days, you should try and enjoy the journey of having the privilege to influence people’s lives and make an impact. You will never have all the answers or be able to predict everything but you can try to be as prepared as possible.

Find out more about nursing at UTS

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