I stood in the medication room with hot stress tears streaming down my face. I had finished receiving the report: it looked to be a busy night in the making. “I just need a moment,” I said to a coworker as she walked out the door. I was off orientation. It was up to me. Composing myself, I took a big breath and wiped my face. As I walked toward the door to start my night, the unit manager appeared. “Ann-Marie, are you OK?” The question came with a concerned look. “You aren’t going to quit, are you?” Surprised, I blurted out, “No, of course not.” The thought had never even crossed my mind. “I truly just needed a moment, I promise.”
Those first days, weeks, and months as a newly-graduated RN cross my mind frequently these days.
I watch as new nurses post pictures of their mask-imprinted faces on social media and I marvel at their determination. This has been an “I need a moment” kind of time in healthcare and in life at large.
New RN, you are doing your grunt year, your baptism by fire, your first year as a nurse, during a global pandemic. I hope you hear my words and take them to heart: You are amazing! To be coming to work, day after day, during a time of great uncertainty, when your managers and more experienced co-workers are extra stressed and stretched extra thin, that shows resilience. You are showing true courage by showing up and doing your best during a time that is full of fear.
Later that night, my former preceptor for the unit stopped me in the hall. “It’s been a crazy night. Do you need anything?” “I am good,” I said in an unsure voice, that seemed half question. He looked me in the eye, knowing I was trying to prove to myself and him that I could do it without help, and instructively said, “Ann-Marie, nurses work in teams for reason.” Reluctantly, I accepted his help, but it seemed too hard to take his words to heart in the moment.
Wasn’t I supposed to have it all together?
Over the years, I have thought back on those words. He was right. We really do work in teams for a reason. Every person brings strengths to the team. No one person, no matter how intelligent or experienced, could ever fully possess the strength the team possesses as a whole. I hope this sinks in for you sooner than it did for me. Even on days when you feel alone and stretched thin, know you are not alone. Teams are not made of perfect nurses. They are made of ordinary people who each learn to give and take. Learning to ask questions and to ask for help is one of a team member’s most valuable skills. Even though you may be a newly-minted nurse, know that your team is made more valuable by your contributions.
As my first year as a nurse came to an end, I began to look back. Of the 12 other new grads I worked with, every single one shed multiple tears in the back nurses’ station or medication room that first year. Every once in a while, my co-workers and I cried over silly things like our love lives; sometimes we cried for our patients; but mostly, we cried stress tears as we daily tried to cope with our newfound responsibility—the weight of our baptism by fire.
Today, those 12 grads are halfway through their eleventh year as nurses. One is a nurse manager, a few are traveling nurses, and the remaining are strong, seasoned staff nurses. We made it. We survived. I have never known a year since that was as hard or tear-filled as that first year.
2020 nurse graduates, your baptism by fire has been hotter than any nursing class in the current working generations. And I am so proud to know several of you.
So many of us “older nurses” are so proud of you. Without your grit, I do not know where our units or our country would be. You are making it. You are surviving. In time, I hope you will be thriving.
As nurses, we go through a lot emotionally and physically (do not even get me started on the 12-hour bladder jokes). However, often we do not get thanked. Let me say thank you.
Thank you for coming to work, day after day.
Thank you for your young idealism that pushes towards positive change.
Thank you for showing respect to those who do not show respect to you.
Thank you for being proactive, not because it is easy but because it is best.
Thank you for showing compassion to those that act out of hurt and fear.
Thank you for putting what is right, above what others think, by asking for help.
Thank you for picking up extra shifts during a time when many with kids schooling online cannot.
Thank you for putting your patients and their families first.
And if a day comes that you wonder if your grit is running low, please remember that EAP exists for a reason. If the EAP counselors of the world have not seen every nurse by the end of this pandemic, that will be a miracle all its own.
Class of 2020, we are proud of you.
Thank you for being part of the healthcare team.
You are truly rock stars!