Life as a New Nurse: Am I Drowning or Swimming?

I am officially a registered nurse! While I set out on this path close to 2 years ago back when I lived in San Diego, it’s still hard to believe.

This  marks my third week as a nurse in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and I couldn’t be happier with my unit and preceptor (mentor). To say it’s been a whirlwind three weeks is an understatement. My main reasoning behind seeking an ICU was the challenge. The patients are usually unstable. You need to be proactive with your assessments and interventions otherwise your patient can quickly take a turn for the worse. This is exciting to me and I’ve already learned SO much in my first few shifts on the unit. Everyday I come home with a list of medications, procedures, and pathologies I want to review and understand inside and out.

I got what I wanted when it came to a challenge. There is this constant sense of drowning as I struggle to make my hands perform simple tasks I did numerous times in nursing school. Thank goodness I have a preceptor that patiently double checks my work and understands what it means to be a new nurse. In a few shifts, my confidence level is slowly growing that I’ll eventually be able to swim on my own but for the most part this voice in the back of my head questions my desire to head straight into the ICU. Every few hours, I’ll have an interaction with a patient or learn about the research being done on my unit with septic patients and early interventions and I feel reenergized and excited to be part of the critical care world. I LOVE that there are only two patients for me to manage so I can really dig into their history and illness so that I’m as prepared to provide the best care possible.

Hopefully, each shift I’ll keep learning different techniques in patient care, documentation, assessment, and most importantly time management. Hopefully, each shift will bring me closer to feeling like I am swimming rather than drowning. Most people say it takes about a year before you feel that way (yikes). My outlook is really positive though. And thank goodness for a preceptor that is continually teaching me small little tricks, as well as how to keep the larger picture in mind and put the patient first.

So how am I training with my new schedule? Blah. Right now I’m not happy with stacking so many workouts on my off days. That means I’m doing 2-3 workouts, 4 days week. It’s been really difficult trying to get a workout in before 6 AM knowing I have to work for 12 hours and then being too exhausted after my shift to do anything but go to bed. I’ll adjust and figure something out but for now I’m a little frustrated. Any nurses or other people out there with a similar schedule have any advice on training? I’ll actually be switching to nights in a few months once I’m done with orientation.  Really interested in how my body will react since I’ve been known to fall asleep at 9 PM watching a movie.

I am really loving having off days to work on projects and take care of appointments or random things I was putting off during school and while studying for the NCLEX. Today I ran at 5:30 AM and then promptly took a quick shower and curled up with a book.

Safe Patients

“Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals” by Dr. Peter Pronovost and Eric Vohr

Really liking this book so far because I’m fascinated by patient safety and quality improvement. Please recommend any other good reads since I finally have the time to read again!!!!

I’m off for a bike ride in a few minutes and working on a present for my brother and his fiancé. Ahhhh so great. Why do I want to go to graduate school again?

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11 Responses to Life as a New Nurse: Am I Drowning or Swimming?

  1. Cil Burke says:

    Great post. Not being a student is so good-for a while. You do triathlons? Saw you on twitter-first time here. I’m a nurse also. I guest post for

  2. Feerlessfood says:

    Life is sure a touch balance isnt it? I know you’ll find it though Court! Let me know how that cook is- we work similar, but not, fields and I too am interested in patient care and quality.

    See you Tuesday!

  3. Krista* says:

    Congrats on becoming a Registered Nurse! What an amazing feeling! I graduated in 2010, and I STILL have “OMG!” moments! Haha 🙂 It is definitely the craziest profession out there! It does get better, and your confidence with grow with every shift!
    I currently work on a Renal/Medical unit, but I do want to try out the ICU someday… Pretty much for the same reason as you, the challenge and to know that I can do it. Some day! I also dream of graduate school… haha! But I think I need a bit of a break to just work, and find myself in my work first!

    As for training, I only work 8 hr shifts (and feel exhausted after those), so I do have a bit more time in the day. I think you just have to shoot for the best you can manage. If you’re tired and worn out, accept that. It’s going to happen. Nights can be rough… I think my best advice for nights and maintaining training/life in general, is to try and form a good daily routine… You’re more likely to get what you want done if you have it planned out and stick to it!

  4. Congrats !!
    I’ve worked 1 year tele, and now 3 years ICU. I would never want to work anywhere besides ICU as an RN in the hospital, but definitely cherished that 1 year on tele for basic skills. Honestly, I am just NOW starting to feel..”comfortable” in my role as an ICU nurse. It takes time. I still have days when I am wondering what the hell i am doing, but if you have a good team, you’ll pull through!

  5. For nursing “books,” I like this one:

    Cute, short stories specifically about the ICU.

    Also, anything by Suzanne Gordon. Tilda Shilof has two books outs: A Nurse’s Story, and The Making of a Nurse. I enjoyed them both.

  6. Mary C. says:

    I always love reading about new nurses! Being a nurse myself and working out 6 days a week whenever I wanted to in nursing school, to working 3- 12 hour shifts in a busy cardiac ICU rotating shifts in the same week (nights one day and two days or vise versa) finding a balance is really hard! I do find though that Its easier for me to get up earlier on my night shift days to get a work out in rather than get up at 4am to work out when i work days. You might find that you like nights because even though I am most definitely NOT a night owl, I feel like I am able to run with friends and kind of live life how I want to and I can just nap before work.

    Congrats on jumping right into the ICU. Don’t be discouraged. I have been an ICU nurse for coming on 2 years in a couple months and I am still afraid to go to work every day. Its healthy. Don’t forget to ask questions when you don’t know and just be confident in what you do know 🙂 You’ll be great!

    • TriCourt says:

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’m adjusting to the night shift better than I thought. It definitley makes working out easier and with this season of life training is important. Thanks for checking out my blog fellow cardiac ICU nurse 🙂

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