One of the major reasons people never dive into the world of travel nursing is because they’re comfortable. They have been at their hospital for longer than they care to admit, and on their unit longer than they can bear. However, they never leave because they are not at the bottom of the totem pole. They know people throughout the hospital. They know the protocols, the codes for all the doors, where things are kept, phone numbers for the other departments, and where the most secluded bathroom is in case you ever manage to sneak away to take care of business. Being comfortable is not a bad thing, but it can be dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that you should worry about your life, career, or family. Dangerous in the sense that it doesn’t allow us to grow and push past the limits that we set for ourselves. No growth comes from your comfort zone. The saying goes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I feel that this can be applied to our desire to venture out once we’ve nearly reached our full potential in a facility or location in which we live. There’s so much world to see, and you can’t see it if you’re afraid to take the leap and go. Further, would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? I challenge you to be that small fish and tackle the world! If the only thing that is stopping you from taking the leap is the uncertainty of a new job, then I will unveil my secrets to becoming a professional “new guy.”
Make a conscious effort to be approachable. This is your first step to gaining allies in your new job. People sometimes feel intimidated about new people coming into their circle, just as you are uncomfortable taking your step into it. Try your best to ease their reservations. You have to be proactive and put forth the effort if it’s going to work starting day one. In your first moments on the unit, take the time to introduce yourself. Your goal should be to be a stranger for as little time as possible. Do this by smiling, using humor, and trying to learn names. This might seem straightforward, but a smile is your first impression. Before you get a chance to say anything, people will pass their judgment on on you. They will see how you are dressed, how your hair is styled, peek at your ID badge (trying to be sneaky), and see your smile. It is the ultimate icebreaker and will signal to the other person that you’re there to help, whether it be a patient, family member, or colleague. Your smile has the ability to set the tone for the entire interaction, so it’s silly not to take advantage of that. Take the time to look up at people and smile while walking through the hallways. When going about your day, remember that the nurses you work with are people too. Everyone likes a good laugh, so don’t be too shy to try to connect with others in this way if that’s something you’re comfortable with. Also remember that you work with others, not just nurses. Try to connect with others as well, including nursing assistants, secretaries, therapists, pharmacy techs, housekeepers, dieticians, etc. Everyone is important in allowing you an easy transition. In your first couple shifts, do your best to learn names. If you’re like me, it won’t be a breeze. It’s like being a teacher on day one with a classroom full of students. They have one name to learn, you have thirty. There are little tricks to help learn names, but if all else fails, you can always go with nicknames. I know I’m guilty of an occasional “my friend” or “lovely.” Be sure go out of your way to put people at ease and you’ll be surprised at how much more enjoyable your experience will be.
People like to be appreciated. This is a pretty universal thing and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. What is surprising, however, is how rarely we sometimes hear these comments of encouragement. Be the catalyst in creating that culture wherever you work. People will be more likely to help you in the future because they know that you are appreciative and it validifies their efforts. When someone does a good job, let them know. When someone helps you, thank them for it. When someone is working hard, let them know it is not going unnoticed. The lessons that your parents and kindergarten teachers taught you should not be forgotten in the workplace. “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way. You also don’t need to be shy with thanking others. There are no limits are how often you can do so. Be generous with your thanks. Frequently, I find myself thanking people multiple times during the shift. It doesn’t cut it to do it only as you’re clocking out. Do it in the moment or immediately after the fact. If I let it go a while without showing gratitude throughout the shift, I find that “thank you so much for your help so far” is my go-to and seems to work pretty well.
Do your very best to do as much as you can on your own. Strive to be self-sufficient, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. When first taking a tour of the unit, it can be information overload, but try to mentally bookmark the essentials (i.e. code cart, med rooms, supply closets, bathrooms). Some hospitals will give you a checklist at orientation and allow you to tour the units in a self-guided manner. Other places will entrust their staff to point out these areas during your first shifts. Either way, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings because it becomes much less stressful when you need to do your job on the floor. It’s okay not to know where anything is, how they chart something, or what doctors need to be called after hours. It’s reasonable that you’d have these questions because you’re new! No one can expect you to know everything on day one. I can guarantee that you won’t know how to do everything on your last day either. That’s okay too. In the event that you have a question, be sure to only ask about that thing once – at least to that person. Show them that you are not wasting their time by walking you through everything, just to have you forget it all. You don’t want to be known as the one who is always running around like a chicken with their head cut off, always looking frantic. If they show you all of the codes to the doors, be sure to jot them down, even if you never use that paper again. It comes across in a way that you are taking the matter seriously. That way, when you have a question in the future, they know that their assistance won’t be a wasted effort.
Prove Your Worth
You know a lot. You’re an excellent nurse. Your résumé says it all. You have a lot to bring to the table. You know this. Your recruiter knows this. The manager who signed you on knows this. The people you used to work with know this. Now it’s time for your new colleagues to know it too. And now that we’ve shaken off the nerves of being in a new place, it’s time to hit the ground running. Bring your past experiences and allow them to shape your current environment. Bring your work ethic, your expertise, and your know-how. One of the great benefits of traveling is being able to see how different places solve similar problems. The tools that you use may be different as you change locations, but nursing is nursing wherever you go. The way you take care of patients doesn’t change; what changes are the tools at your disposal. You are not a new nurse, you’re just a nurse who is new to this location. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll teach your new coworkers while on assignment. I promise that you’ll get so much pride in being able to show how great and skilled you are. Do your best to be an asset to those around you. Good at starting IVs? Be sure your coworkers know that so you can help with that “hard stick.” Helped solve a similar problem your facility is currently facing? Offer suggestions on how to improve outcomes. Have pride in who you are, where you came from, and what you’ve learned and bring that all to the table whenever you start an assignment.
Be a Team Player
Every place is different, and so is their work culture, but I can almost guarantee that no matter how nice, charming, and skillful you are, you’ll start somewhere on the “outside.” Sometimes (not always), people will be less willing to offer a helping hand to the new guy or gal. After all, they don’t know you nor do they know that you’re the hard worker that you are. They’re looking out for themselves and don’t want to be taken advantage of which is understandable. This is where you have to prove them wrong. You have to show them all the things that you’re bringing to the table and how you’re an asset to the team there. You need to embrace the team player attitude even if you haven’t quite yet received any benefits from it just yet. You need to try to sense when someone is struggling or ask periodically if there’s something that you can do to help. You need to speak up when you need help because people cannot read your mind. When you’re overwhelmed, don’t be sassy or rude. Take it on the chin and grind it out. Be sure to ask for help in a respectful manner. You need to erase any me versus them mentality. The only way we survive is together. If someone is drowning while you are sitting at the nurses’ station scrolling through your Instagram, trust me – it goes noticed. If a new patient comes to the floor, follow them in and offer to transfer the patient over to the new bed and get vital signs. Sometimes just checking in on someone or answering a call bell is enough to take some pressure off someone. Anything helps. If you’re caught up with your responsibilities (and sometimes when you’re not), just make sure to make yourself available. It’ll go a long way in showing your commitment to the team’s success and ease of transition to the unit.
Do Your Due Diligence
Remember that these are all new colleagues, and not all of these tips can be sunshine and rainbows. You don’t necessarily know their work ethics and how thorough they are. Be sure to cover yourself and maintain patient safety by checking active orders, equipment in use, medications, IV access and drug compatibility, bed alarms, etc. You no longer have the liberty of taking someone’s word for it. When you’re just starting, you don’t know who the super nurses are – the ones you’d let take care of your mom – and who the slackers and airheads are yet. Be sure to be vigilant in bedside report. Be attentive and observant, writing down your report as you normally would, but also ensure you’re double-checking the chart for accuracy. Just remember to be respectful and that no one likes that annoying nurse who asks a million questions in bedside report that have no relevance to what we’re doing for the patient. If you always keep this in mind, you’ll be able to keep two things: 1) patients safe and 2) your nursing license in good standing.