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New Job, Year One: Tough, Exhausting, Rewarding

There’s a reason why “firsts” are such powerful shapers of our lives. First words, first steps, first loves . . . they all build the foundation for what we ultimately become. When we are young, a first job may be thought irrelevant to our long term goal, but, it too adds to who we’re going to be. When you have a career already, and then start over at a new first job though, the effects of that experience resonate far beyond many of the “regular firsts,” in my opinion.

I am about to complete my first year as a registered nurse. I am about to leave my first nurse job to make a military move with my family.  I am also close to turning 40 years old.

My life has already been filled with years of work before now. I made the decision to obtain a second degree and last summer, I walked into a sea of twenty somethings as we began our nurse residency at my hospital. I didn’t know what to expect of this ‘first experience’ having already had firsts before. After our initial classes, I was embraced by a group of Orthopedic/Trauma co-workers ranging in both age and experience levels.

These co-workers and managers stood by me and walked me through the new things, the scary things, the overwhelming things. They shared their knowledge with me. They dispelled every stereotype about nurses. There was no “eating their young, dumping gross stuff only on the new nurses, or back stabbing.” It didn’t matter that I wasn’t 22 and just out of college for the first time. Our group of residents was treated with both respect and kindness as we schlepped through the trenches of the first year. We all helped each other. We became a family.

And just like in any family, people sometimes make mistakes. I experienced some firsts that caused me to learn policy and procedure the hard way. Fortunately, patients remained safe and much like good parents, my management coached me and guided me through in a positive way, still supporting me and above all, ensuring lessons were indeed learned.

My initial goal in becoming a nurse was, of course, to make people feel better. But, there were many times during this past year that I completely lost sight of that. There was so much to do in 12 hours, I was pulled in so many different directions and there was so much policy to maintain that making people feel better somehow escaped my mind.

The more experienced nurses put that into prospective for me from time to time, reminding me that we are there for the patient first. Even my fellow residents have either taught me things or have just been there for me when I felt that my to do list was impossible. The offer to medicate just one patient or help with a brand new post operative arrival, these sisters and brothers have lightened the load for me on multiple occasions. And I have taken great delight in the times when I could return the favor.

More than half way into my year, our hospital switched to a different computer system. As a new nurse, I only knew how to do things one way. Though the switch was well planned and we were educated beforehand, nothing compared to the helplessness I felt that first day back with the new system. Life as I knew it felt completely changed. Cue the cavalry. I survived my first week of system implementation because of my co-workers.

They swooped in and not only rescued me, but showed me where to find the screen I was looking for, helped me to remember where to document a wound, IV, etc. Even after my first eight weeks of orientation were over in the very beginning of my career and I was “on my own,” I’ve never spent one day feeling alone.

I don’t really know what I expected of my first nursing job. I only knew what I heard in nursing school. I’ll tell you what I didn’t expect: I didn’t expect to feel so exhausted and drained. I didn’t expect to feel so overwhelmed. I didn’t expect to, at times, doubt my choice to become a nurse.  I also didn’t expect to feel so taken care of, in spite of the aforementioned sentiments. I didn’t expect to become so personally invested in the people I work with. I didn’t realize how much we would depend on each other. I didn’t think I’d find a family in the midst of the chaos. I didn’t expect to feel this much emotion as I prepare to leave.

My first nursing job has profoundly affected the decisions I make both as a nurse and in my long-term career choices. It has changed the way I think, and the way I do things both at work and personally. I began this journey to take care of others. I had no idea that I would end up feeling so taken care of.

This year has been scary, it’s been tough, it’s been one of the hardest years of my life. I wanted to quit so many times. But it needed to happen this way. I needed to go through this with these people, because they have taught me how to treat patients, how to treat friends and have put a unique prospective on the next steps of my journey. 

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