What To Expect On Your First Day As An RN | NurseJournal.org (2023)

I remember my first day as a nurse. Years of working as a nurse's aide, hours of clinicals, return demonstrations, and classwork didn't prepare me as well as I'd hoped for the anxiety and multitude of questions on my first day.

Nursing orientation lasted nearly a week at the large Chicago children's hospital. It was almost like being back in the classroom again, except my first day in the pediatric neurosurgical unit loomed at the end of the week. Butterflies don't begin to describe those feelings.

It turns out I wasn't alone. Each of the new graduates in the orientation class felt the same way, as did every fresh graduate I oriented in the coming years. So, how can you make your first day better than mine? Preparation. You might think that our education and clinical hours were enough preparation for your first day working as a nurse, but you would be wrong.

Clinicals and return demonstrations happen in a structured environment under careful supervision. As a new graduate nurse, you work independently in an unfamiliar environment to care for your patients.

In this guide, you'll discover what you need to know about your first day working as a nurse and the type of preparation that can help lower your anxiety level.

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Your First Day as a New Registered Nurse

While your first week as a new registered nurse may differ slightly based on the hospital where you work, generally, your experience will parallel other new graduates across the country.

The coming days may be filled with anticipation and anxiety, but with a little preparation, you can begin your career confidently and set expectations appropriately.

You'll receive a letter or an email from the human resources department before your first day of orientation. The hospital outlines what to expect in the coming weeks, including whether they provide lunch on the first day and how to dress for classroom orientation.

At orientation, you may sit in a classroom with new nurses who have a temporary license or have passed the NCLEX-RN to become an RN. Classroom time can vary from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the unit. Nurses on a general medical-surgical floor may experience the shortest classroom nursing orientation, while those in a specialized or intensive care unit may spend a few weeks in the classroom.

Your nursing orientation includes instruction on the electronic medical record (EMR) system the hospital uses and how to enter information. Most hospitals spend several hours reviewing the medical record process and allow you to practice on a computer so you are familiar when you reach the unit.

You also receive an orientation on the general hardware used throughout the hospital, such as IV pumps, patient monitors, and oxygen delivery equipment. Having a basic understanding of how the hospital software and hardware work helps reduce the potential for medical and charting errors in your first weeks.

Many hospitals find it challenging to recruit and hire nurses experienced in the emergency or operating room. To address this need, some hospitals have started residency programs for new graduate nurses. The program includes general hospital orientation, extensive classroom work, and nursing orientation on the unit for roughly one year.

After classroom orientation, you match with a preceptor on the unit. This is the nurse responsible for orienting you to the structure of the unit, showing you where to find supplies, and explaining the process the unit uses in patient care.

New nurses can expect to shadow their preceptor for a couple of days before taking their own patient assignment. In the first week, you and your preceptor usually split one patient assignment so they have time to help when you have questions. This gives you a lighter load as you learn to navigate the unit and learn the EMR.


Your First Day of Nursing Orientation

When you arrive at the hospital, someone will direct you to the conference room where your first day of orientation will take place. In some hospitals, you'll be in orientation with all staff. In others, you may do orientation with just nursing staff.

Human resources representatives often lead the first several hours of orientation. You begin by filling out a W-4 form so your employer withholds the right amount of taxes for the IRS. You must also provide several forms of identification to complete an I-9 form. This proves you are eligible to work in the United States. There are several documents that can establish your identity and authorization to work.

The remaining time in the morning may be used to learn about the different medical insurance options the hospital offers and for filling out forms for life and disability insurance. Most hospitals have a 30-90 day waiting period until you are eligible for medical insurance. This gives you ample time to take the documentation home and select the plan that works best for your situation.

How Does Working as an RN Compare to Clinicals?

There are definite differences between working as an RN or being a nursing student performing clinicals. You may notice more differences as you begin practicing as a nurse, including the following.

Care Plans

You may have some new job anxiety over care plans. You'll likely remember the lengthy papers evaluated by your clinical nurse instructor. The night before a clinical, you gathered all the information about your patient, including diagnosis, lab work, medications, and pertinent medical history.

Then you may have spent up to four hours writing a detailed care plan with assessments, diagnoses, interventions, and the reasons you choose these diagnoses. Once turned in to your clinical instructor, you may be asked to justify your choices.

However, as a nurse, these intricate and highly researched care plans are a thing of the past. A patient's status can change quickly, and so must the care plan. Many hospitals use care plans that have checkboxes, with additional space for writing specifics. The days of spending hours on a care plan for a single patient are long gone.

While the care plans you write in school are not practical as a staff nurse, they do prepare you for the critical thinking and decision-making necessary to provide quality nursing care.


In 2018, well before the pandemic, an online poll of 4,619 people in the U.K. found that 74% of those polled were overwhelmed or unable to cope with stress. Stress and anxiety are part of the modern human condition, and it rose substantially during 2020 and 2021.

While nursing students are subject to pressure, the stress you experience as a nursing student differs from the stress you experience as a staff nurse.

Both experiences are taxing in their own way. While in school, nursing students fret over passing exams, keeping track of assignments, and ensuring they don't fail out of the program. In clinicals, your instructor and staff preceptors oversee your patient care. They must check and double-check your movements and actions.

(Video) 5 Tips To Help You Get Through Orientation | New Grad & New-to-Specialty Nurses

As a staff nurse, you lose the stress of classwork and testing and take on the pressure of holding your patients' lives in your hands. It's vital you keep track of your patients' medical care, medication, procedures, wound care, labs, and a multitude of other processes. This happens while you juggle phone calls to the doctor, call lights, and patient care.


When you entered nursing school, you learned some new medical terms. For example, a heart attack is a myocardial infarction often caused by a coronary thrombosis (clot). An irregular heartbeat is an arrhythmia and an unknown cause is idiopathic. You may have memorized these terms in school, but once you're a staff nurse, the vocabulary list grows.

As a nursing student, I spent hours looking through a physician's desk reference (PDR) for the name of a medication. At that time, there was no internet, just massive reference books we lugged around. The book has now been digitized and is called the Prescriber's Digital Reference, which you can access on your smartphone--definitely easier to carry with you!

The name of the medication that nearly every elderly patient on this medical-surgical unit was taking was called MOM, a common medication. The nurses and instructors wouldn't tell the students the name of the medication, only the acronym, and that acronym wasn't in the PDR. It was a prank that the seasoned nurses played on the student nurses. No one could find this medication in any reference book, and most student nurses would not call the pharmacy to ask.

It was milk of magnesia! The staff nurses enjoyed the prank--and I did too when we had student nurses come through in the following years.

You might also find that the floor nurses abbreviate incentive spirometry as "IS," BMP for basic metabolic panel, or "tropes" for troponin, a chemical commonly elevated after heart injury.

It can take a couple of months to understand all the abbreviations the staff nurses use to communicate. This should not concern you. In fact, your colleagues expect you to ask questions. They remember what it was like to be a new nurse, and you'll remember too in a few years when you're orienting a new nurse.


Have you graduated and passed the NCLEX-RN? Then your long-term focus on homework and testing is finished. You must read to keep up with the new medical treatments and medications, but you no longer have to take tests.

Initially, it may feel good to rest and relax, focussing solely on getting through the day. In the coming months or years, you may want to take a new certification examination or advance your education. For the moment, take a breath and relax; homework is done.

Broad school, narrow practice

(Video) First Day of Work as RN| What To Expect

Nursing school teaches you a little about a lot of subjects. You learn about mother/baby care, obstetrics, medical/surgical, ICU, kidney dialysis, oncology, and orthopedics, to name a few medical markets. However, when working, you narrow your focus.

For example, you may forget most of what you learned about obstetrics or orthopedics if you've started working on a pediatric neurosurgery unit at a children's hospital. You won't need to remember the intricacies of the stages of labor or the small bones in the ankle. Instead, you focus on hydrocephalus, internal and external shunts, brain tumors, and seizures. In other words, you move from a broad perspective on medical and nursing care to a more focused perspective.

Updated evidence-based protocols

You may find that hospitals also strive to use the most updated evidence-based protocols when caring for their patients. When you were in school, you learned the complexities of how to do a wet-to-dry dressing change or the way to hang chemotherapy.

However, after graduation, you will find that wet-to-dry dressings are almost never used since new wound management products have improved wound healing, and your hospital has a chemotherapy nurse who hangs all the medication. Nursing care changes with the development of new procedures.

Professional values and attitude

One published study from BMC Medical Education looked at the professional values of a student nurse and compared those against a staff nurse. More than 250 nurses and 100 students took the survey.

Researchers found that nursing students' perspectives toward professional values were important, and those focused on caring and justice were low in staff nurses and student nurses. This indicated to the researchers that hospitals needed to spend more time and energy on values training after nurses start working.

A second study evaluated the scores of 313 nurses and 81 nursing students. The researchers found that 72.6% of the nurses and 65.4% of the students had a positive attitude toward nursing, and the remaining had a neutral or negative attitude.

A nurse's attitude has a significant effect on burnout. This indicates it is necessary to further study and develop interventions that help to improve the attitude of nurses.

Tips for Surviving Your First Day as a Registered Nurse

Knowing what's coming on your first day as an RN helps to calm the nerves. As you settle into your new job, here are a few practical suggestions to help you prepare for the work ahead.

1. Bring the essentials: Nothing feels worse than knowing you don't appear prepared for your new colleagues and boss. Be sure to bring plenty of pens, as you will likely have staff who ask to borrow one and never return it.

Most nurses wear their stethoscope around their neck. However, it can get in the way when transferring patients, making beds, or changing dressings. Consider purchasing a stethoscope holster.

You also want to carry some money in your pocket if you don't have time to get to your locker for cash or get off the unit for lunch.

2. Seek out a mentor: Most hospitals assign a new graduate nurse a preceptor. This is a seasoned nurse who can show you the ropes and answer your questions. However, not all matches are made in heaven.

You will also want to seek out a mentor who can help guide your career development and advancement. Take your time and put a lot of thought into the person you go to for career questions.

3. Remember new names: This has always been a problem for me. On your first day, you'll be introduced to nurses, support staff, doctors, and your patients. That's a lot of names to learn quickly. Remembering a person's name and how you use it can have a profound effect on their impression of you.

The first time you meet someone, try to use their name two or three times in conversation. This helps to imprint their name on your brain. Focus on the person you are talking to and not what you plan to say next. Also, try to link the name with something you already know. For example, I recently met a woman named Mary Moore. Immediately I thought of the actress Mary Tyler Moore, and it was easy to remember her name from then on. At the end of the day, go back over the names of the people you met that day.

4. Ask questions—it's expected: Your colleagues expect you to ask questions, so don't disappoint them. The best way you can learn how to do things is to ask questions and shadow another nurse.

5. How to deal with stress: You will deal with stress throughout your work and personal life, so explore stress-reducing strategies. Consider trying exercise, yoga, meditation, improved nutrition, reducing your caffeine intake, laughter, and spending time with friends and family.

6. How to adjust to changing shifts: Most nurses swing between first, second, and third shifts. When you slowly adjust your sleep schedule for two or three days before your shift starts, you'll have fewer problems with performance and sleep schedule. You adjust more easily when you continue to exercise, stay hydrated, and lower your intake of caffeine and alcohol.

(Video) What to expect during your NURSING ORIENTATION

Remember: You Deserve to Be Here

The public holds nurses in high esteem. They are trusted medical professionals who work each day to save and protect the lives of their patients. Some nursing graduates start their careers feeling a little like a fraud. This is called imposter syndrome. The feelings are fairly common, occurring in roughly 30% of high-achieving individuals.

Feelings of self-doubt when facing new challenges are normal. But with imposter syndrome, you may experience an encompassing fear that you don't have what it takes. The syndrome was first diagnosed in women in the 1970s, but men are also susceptible. The syndrome is closely related to perfectionism, a common trait found in nurses whose work demands perfection.

When you feel pressure to perform at your best all the time, it can lead to feelings of incompetence and anxiety. However, there is no single answer why some people experience imposter syndrome and others do not. Factors that influence the development of the symptoms include your personality, childhood experiences, and environment.

Acknowledge these feelings and put them in perspective. Remember why you became a nurse and that your clinical instructors, professors, and preceptors have recognized your abilities. Remember that others who have evaluated your skills believe you have the right to work alongside more experienced nurses and care for critically ill patients.

Your willingness to ask questions and acknowledge when you don't have the answers is as important as knowing how to care for your patients. No one expects you to know everything right out of school. Therefore, take this time during orientation and throughout your first year as a new nurse to absorb as much information as possible from the seasoned nurses who work alongside you.

(Video) First Day of Nursing School | What to Expect during the First Week as a Nursing Student?

Related Resources for New Nurses


What To Expect On Your First Day As An RN | NurseJournal.org? ›

Your nursing orientation includes instruction on the electronic medical record (EMR) system the hospital uses and how to enter information. Most hospitals spend several hours reviewing the medical record process and allow you to practice on a computer so you are familiar when you reach the unit.

How do I prepare for my first day of nursing? ›

  1. Wear Your Uniform and a Watch. It all begins with your uniform. ...
  2. Bring Four Pens. ...
  3. Bring a Stethoscope Holster. ...
  4. Pack Your Lunch. ...
  5. Your Shift Starts 15-Minutes Earlier Than Anyone Else. ...
  6. Remember ALL of Your Patients, and Be Patient. ...
  7. Keep a Paper “Brain.” ...
  8. Interact With Your Peers.
Nov 10, 2016

What is a typical day of a RN like? ›

Working as a registered nurse, you can expect your days to include: Checking vital signs. Providing direct patient care: conducting physical and psychological assessments, administer medications, collaborate with other healthcare team members to provide holistic care. Interpret lab and other diagnostic test.

What does a beginner nurse do? ›

As an entry-level nurse, you should be making rounds, administering medication as needed. If you are working in a clinic, you could be responsible for providing first aid and immunizations. You might also be responsible for inserting catheters and feeding tubes.

How do nurses start their day? ›

Mornings are busy for nurses. They'll check in with each patient and record their status. Nurses check blood work in the morning, monitor the blood sugar of diabetic patients, and check in to see if anything requires their immediate attention.

What should I bring to my first day of RN job? ›

On the first day of training, the RN will need nursing supplies: equipment such as stethoscopes, scrubs (unless the hospital has a different dress policy), as well as nursing shoes that are comfortable for walking around all day.

What is the hardest nursing job? ›

The most stressful nursing jobs include ICU nurse, ER nurse, and NICU nurse. In these roles, nurses work in an intense environment with high stakes. They manage emergency situations and care for critically ill patients. Other stressful nursing jobs include OR nursing, oncology nursing, and psychiatric nursing.

Do RNS work 3 days a week? ›

Many nurses work just 3 days a week. Although it seems like a pretty relaxed and manageable schedule, they work 12-hour shifts on each of those days. Those long shifts can be draining and taxing on the nurse's mental and physical health—it's far from an easy schedule.

How long is the average work day of a nurse? ›

Typically, nurses either work eight, 10 or 12-hour shifts. A nurse's shifts can vary depending on factors such as location, demand and personal preference. Full-time nurses work between 36 and 40 hours a week, while part-time nurses usually work less than 30 hours a week.

How many patients a day do nurses see? ›

Depending on where you work, you could be responsible for one patient at a time (in a surgical setting, for example) or up to six patients (in a psychiatric ward). In some settings, such as large, busy hospitals, a nurse could be asked to care for eight or more patients at a time.

What is the easiest nurse to be? ›

Low-Stress Nursing Careers
  1. Nurse Educator. This is one of the least stressful nursing jobs available. ...
  2. School Nurse/Summer Camp Nurse. If you love children, this might be the perfect opportunity for you. ...
  3. Nurse Administrator. ...
  4. Public Health Nurse. ...
  5. Nurse Researcher. ...
  6. Nurse Informaticist. ...
  7. Case Management Nurse. ...
  8. Home Health Nurse.
Sep 30, 2020

Is the first year of nursing the hardest? ›

If you become a nurse, your first year on the job is often the hardest. Being in a new environment, suddenly having to use new skills, and the new responsibility of being a nurse hit you all at once. It can be overwhelming.

What is the easiest nursing class? ›

The Easiest Classes in Nursing School
  • Social Sciences (Intro Psychology, Sociology, etc.)
  • Humanities.
  • Intro to Speech (or Communication)
  • English Composition.
  • History.
  • Using Information Technology.

What do nurses do during a shift? ›

During their shifts, nurses record important information about patients and their care, so the next nursing team will know what to do to care for a patient. In their daily activities, nurses spend a lot of time on their feet. They move from patient room to patient room or from clinic room to clinic room.

What do nurses do at night? ›

Duties. Night shift nurses have the same responsibilities as day shift nurses, including routine patient care, administering medication and addressing patient concerns. Often, night shift work is slower and more manageable than day shift work as many patients are asleep.

What kind of person makes a good nurse? ›


One of the most important qualities of a good nurse is compassion. In their career, nurses will see patients suffer. Beyond simply offering a solution, they must be able to express compassion for patients and their families. This allows them to form meaningful relationships with their patients.

What I wish I knew before going into nursing? ›

You will have to study hard

During your time in nursing school, you will quickly notice life getting much busier. Nursing school is difficult and, like any other healthcare-related program, involves a lot of studying. And not only that, but you'll also have to devote time to a clinical rotation program.

What is the best shift for a new nurse? ›

Working the night shift is a great way to learn fast and prove your skills, especially as a new nurse. The shift allows more experienced nurses time to teach and train new nurses. Patients are sleeping, so there is downtime to learn and master skills.

What is the best shift for a new grad RN? ›

Night shift is great for new nurses, because there is more downtime to learn. Day shift can be overwhelming for a new grad, so I suggest trying the nightlife until you get the hang of things. It allows for more time to look at your patient's chart and learn why you are doing what you are doing.

Which type of nurse is most prone to burnout? ›

Critical care nurses tend to suffer the highest rates of burnout. Critical care specialties include the emergency department (ED) and intensive care unit (ICU). Emergency department nurses tend to experience the highest rates of burnout.

Which nurses have the highest burnout? ›

Critical care nurses suffer the highest rates of burnout.

This is mainly due to the nature of the job, as critical care nurses work specialize in the emergency department (ED) and intensive care unit (ICU). As such, their work environment is constantly fast-paced, meticulous, and demanding.

What age do most nurses retire? ›

At What Age Do Most Nurses Retire?
  • 7% of both women and men retired at age 63.
  • 8% of women and 7% of men retired at age 64.
  • 11% of women and 13% of men retired at age 69.
  • 9% of women and 6% of men retired at the age of 70 or beyond.
Aug 4, 2022

Do nurses pick their schedule? ›

After rigorous training programs in school and on the job training, nurses earn the ability to choose a flexible schedule.

What is the longest shift a nurse can work? ›

In most cases, hospitals will not allow nurses to work more than 16 hours in a row. Clinic nurses (private practice) typically will not work more than 8 hours per day. Scheduled shifts are typically either 8, 10, or 12 hours in duration and may not follow the typical pattern of the day, evening, or night shifts.

What does it mean to be flexed as a nurse? ›

As a flexible RN, you typically work part-time as a registered nurse in a clinical or non-clinical setting. Someone in this role may travel between different facilities or work unusual hours to provide support as needed.

What is the longest shift for nurses? ›

The max number of hours a nurse can work in a row is usually 16 hours. Though many facilities will limit nurses to working no more than 12 hours straight.

Can nurses refuse assignment? ›

The ANA upholds that “registered nurses – based on their professional and ethical responsibilities – have the professional right to accept, reject or object in writing to any patient assignment that puts patients or themselves at serious risk for harm.

How often do nurses pee? ›

It may be a stretch to infer unhealthy life threatening practices from just holding your pee. Maybe not, but listen up. If nurses aren't peeing 4-5 times during a 12 hour shift that means they are not taking in enough fluid to start with. That goal of 8-10 glasses of water is not being met.

What nurse makes the least money? ›

Licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and licensed practical nurses (LPN) are some of the lowest-paid nursing roles, but that is due to the fact that the educational requirements are less than most other types of nurses.

What is the least stressful type of nurse? ›

Institutional Nurses

These nurses administer more basic care and typically don't have to work long hours and overnight shifts, so this field of nursing tends to be low-stress. Even with less excitement, these nurses find fulfillment in providing basic and family care to those in need.

What is the lowest RN degree? ›

In general, nurses fall into three categories: non-degree, degree, and advanced degree. Non-degree nurses include certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), who complete nursing education programs that don't culminate in a degree.

Is it common to fail nursing class? ›

Many nursing schools require a minimum grade of roughly 80% to actually pass, as well. By the time you realize you aren't doing well enough to be successful in the course, the choices can be pretty limited. Failure happens all the time. It happens every day...

Why is the first year of nursing so hard? ›

The first year of nursing school is hard because you're starting a new venture. Not only are you learning new information specific to your industry, but you'll also be putting that education into action. Learning facts is much different than practicing them, so stretching yourself in this new way can be demanding.

How do you survive the first semester of nursing school? ›

10 Tips on How to Survive Nursing School
  1. Get to know your professors early in the semester. ...
  2. Review every single test you get back. ...
  4. Get your assignments done early. ...
  5. Get organized!!!! ...
  6. Find good study habits. ...
  7. Study during your breaks. ...
  8. Self-care is so important for nursing students.
Jan 14, 2020

What is the hardest class in RN school? ›

Pharmacology. Pharmacology, or the study of medication, can seem scary because of the sheer scope of the course. "It becomes one of the hardest classes for nursing students due to the depth and amount of knowledge needed," says Megan Lynch, RN and instructor at Pima Community College.

What is the hardest nursing certification to get? ›

Emergency nursing is considered one of the most difficult fields of nursing, and certification in this specialty is highly desirable.

What are the easiest nursing units? ›

  1. Pre-op Nurse. About the Job: ...
  2. Travel Nurse. About the Job: ...
  3. School Nurse. About the Job: ...
  4. Occupational Health. About the Job: ...
  5. Assisted Living Facility. About the Job: ...
  6. Post-op Nurse. About the Job: ...
  7. Research Nurse. About the Job: ...
  8. Home Health RN. About the Job:

What is the first rule of nursing? ›

The very first canon of nursing, the first and the last thing upon which a nurse's attention must be fixed, the first essential to the patient, without which all the rest you can do for him is nothing, with which I had almost said you may leave all the rest alone, is this: TO KEEP THE AIR HE BREATHES AS PURE AS THE ...

How many hours should you study a day for nursing? ›

How many hours a day should I study for nursing school? Everyone is different, but in general, it is recommended that nursing school students study anywhere from 2-4 hours a day. Committing class material to memory is essential to becoming a registered nurse, so the more time studying, the better!

What is the Golden Rule for nurses? ›

Treat others as you wish to be treated. Be courteous to everyone whether or not they reciprocate. Offer sincere compliments, thank people for even the small things they do and show appreciation for every member of your department and team.

What is the golden rule in nursing? ›

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What is the nurse's first priority? ›

The first-level priority problems are health issues that are life-threatening and require immediate attention. These are health problems associated with ABCs; airway, breathing, and circulation, such as establishing an airway, supporting breathing, and addressing sudden perfusion and cardiac issues.

Is it hard being a RN? ›

Nursing is hard work and it requires a high level of dedication to helping people, excellent communication skills, and the right emotional temperament. On top of this, nursing requires extensive education and there is a steep learning curve for the clinical knowledge and skills needed to help patients.

How many hours of sleep do nursing students get? ›

Nursing (RNs)

On average, students in nursing school get 5.69 hours per night. That's probably because they're busy studying enough to get through their four-year degree program for a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN), an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a relevant diploma from an approved program.

Can an average student become a nurse? ›

To start nursing school, you don't need any prior nursing experience or healthcare education. All you need is a high school diploma or GED. Once you are accepted, your journey to RN begins! You can become an RN in 2 to 4 years by studying for an associate's degree (ASN) or bachelor's degree (BSN).

What is the shortest year to study for nursing? ›

One of the shortest certification programs is the certified nursing assistant (CNA) training program. Some CNA programs last as little as 12 to 18 weeks. Others may offer up to one year of training. The requirements of your state and the program you attend can affect the specific length of attendance.

Is night shift easier for nurses? ›

And the answer is "Yes!" The night shift can be significantly easier to start with for new nurses. It doesn't have the overwhelming stress of many patients and doctors going in and out. On the contrary, the night shift will enable you to learn at a slower pace.

What is the longest shift in nursing? ›

The max number of hours a nurse can work in a row is usually 16 hours. Though many facilities will limit nurses to working no more than 12 hours straight.


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