Rolling Hill nursing

How to Fit In and Make Friends at Your First Nursing Job


JUNE, 2020

Starting your first job as a new nurse is scary. This is a huge time of transition. You just finished your nursing degree, and have moved on to the next big chapter of your life. Many of your nursing school friends have probably gone to other hospitals. Maybe you moved out of state to start your career.

Your nursing family can forge some of the closest relationships in your life. We go through so much together. There is no stronger bond than the teamwork it takes to handle a code brown…. in a contact room… for the 4th time that shift.

Plus, when you are the one popping your head out of a contact room like a gopher barking for supplies, you want people to want to help you.

We spend a lot of time at work and nursing burnout is a real thing. Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t just happen to veteran nurses. New grad nurses are susceptible to burnout and compassion fatigue possibly even more than any other nurse. 

You can check out my other article with a new tool to prevent burnout

Everything is new and everything is hard (don’t worry, it really does get better). Building friendships and having support at work is so important to preventing burnout. 

One of the number one reasons that people in any profession leave their job is because of toxic and unwelcoming culture. 

I have been so fortunate to work with some of the most compassionate, kind, and inviting people in the entire world. But I know a lot of nurses who feel like the culture of their workplace is mean, cruel, and punitive. 

Unfortunately there are still nurses that eat their young. 

As a new nurse, finding a workplace that fosters your growth and makes you feel like you belong in the nursing world is vital. 

Part of working on a unit with great culture is helping to create that great culture.

Continue reading for some ways to fit in and make friends at your first nursing job. Be part of what makes the culture on your nursing unit so great.

1. Eat Lunch On the Unit

This may seem like a silly thing, but eating lunch on the unit can allow you, if even for a few minutes, some uninterrupted time to chat with your nursing coworkers. 

I always love when it’s near the end of a night shift and the patients are actually sleeping and I can just sit down with my coworkers and laugh about whatever. Night shift delirium and giggles are so real. Just be careful about noise complaints…. I’m definitely speaking from experience. Whoops.

It can definitely be tempting to go eat your lunch in the cafeteria. It can be really beneficial to get off the unit and have a little physical distance. Some days it might be the best thing for your mental health, and in that case, I definitely recommend doing what you need to take care of yourself.

Otherwise, I do encourage you to eat in your unit’s break room (if you have one). Chances are, you and your coworkers won’t all be able to eat at the same time. But maybe a few of you can eat together. 

Just having a little time together can help you get to know your nursing coworkers. Especially when you are new and don’t really know anyone on your unit yet, take this time to really interact and ask about their lives. 

I encourage you to get to know your coworkers. You will be spending enough time with them, you might as well get friendly. 

Are they married? Do they have kids? How long have they been a nurse? What do they do outside the hospital?

Maybe you will find that you have a lot in common and can cultivate a friendship in and outside of work. If not, there is nothing wrong with having professional friendships with people at your work.

In “the real world”  you guys might not be best buds, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, courteous, and nice at work.

2. Avoid Drama and Negativity

You would think this should be pretty obvious, but believe me, nurses can definitely throw a lot of shade. Also, sometimes we are stressed and just want to vent a little bit. 

When you find yourself trapped in the med room with another nurse who just has to tell you about how another nurse is terrible, or how they hate the unit manager for not approving their PTO, or whatever. Don’t feed into it. Politely listen, give them a little dose of positivity, and find your exit. 

A lot of times, people just need a minute to vent and then they can get on with their shift. Honestly, if this is the case, just let them do it. Validate them and use that therapeutic communication. 

There are, however, some people that seem to always put a negative spin on just about everything. I would implore you to not interact with them too much. 

These are the people that I always try to act extra positive around, to try to flip their negative internal narrative. I also try not to spend too much time around them. 

Nursing is hard enough by itself. You don’t need to make it even hard by letting other people’s negative energy get in your way. 

If you are having a hard time staying positive, check out my other article about positive personal mantras. A mantra really can help you get through your toughest shifts, I use a mantra all the time. 

People like being around positive people. It helps energize them. Smiles and positivity are contagious. Strive to be the nurse on your unit that brings this light and sunshine.

I promise that the positivity you put out into the world will reflect back onto you and help keep you charged.

At the end of the day, remember that you are at work. This includes being professional, polite, and respectful to everyone. Sometimes, this means putting on your best customer service smile and just continuing to work. 

If you have to complain, complain after work. During work, if you can’t be positive, just keep on keeping on.

And please never, ever participate in talking poorly about one of your coworkers or gossiping. It isn’t beneficial to you, the culture on your unit, or your patients.

3. Team Up

I’m definitely not saying that you have to strive to be super popular or everyone’s best friend. Yes, of course it feels good to be liked, and I think in a professional environment you should at least aim to be cordial with all of your coworkers. 

There is no popularity contest at work, but try to at least have a few work buddies. Does this mean you have to spend all of your time together? Of course not.

If you do become friends outside of work, that’s wonderful, and definitely cherish that relationship. A few of my absolute best friends in the world I have met through nursing, and their friendship means the world to me. Even if we don’t work together anymore.

What I am trying to say is that it is so important for you to have someone, or hopefully a few someones, at work that you feel comfortable around and make you feel like you belong on the unit. 

Nursing is no easy job, and feeling like you belong on your unit is massively important to your psyche. Try to make connections with a few of your coworkers. 

If you are in the new grad nurse program and there are other new nurses with you on your unit, these nurses might be a great place to form a friendship.

After all, you are going through a lot of the same things. Experiencing the same emotional roller coaster of the ups and downs of being a new nurse.

This gives you someone that you can discuss crazy patients or suctioning a trach for the first time. I can hear that sound just thinking about *shudder*. 

If that doesn’t work out, you could always try to build a connection with your preceptor. It doesn’t really matter who it is, but finding a friend on your unit will really help you feel like you fit in and belong at your first nursing job.

4. Don’t Forget Everyone Else

Yes, nurses will probably comprise a large portion of the people on your unit, but don’t forget everyone else that you will be seeing multiple times a week. This could include the nursing aids, unit clerks, mid-level providers (NPs and PAs), docs, even the custodians (EVS). 

At my last nursing job, there was one lady who worked for EVS, and I would see her every morning near the end of my shift when she was showing up for work. She would give me the world’s best smile and a BIG hug. I looked forward to this every single day.

I have also formed great friendships with many of the nursing aids and medical assistants who I have worked with. You will learn quickly that your job can be a lot easier or a lot harder depending on which aid is working with you that day. 

Remember, you are part of a team with everyone on the unit. You are all working together to keep all of your patients safe.

You may have patients that are assigned to you, but all of the patients on the unit are your patients.

Feeling like you really fit in and belong on your unit really does help promote job satisfaction and is so good for your mental health. There are so many people you can learn from and enjoy being around that aren’t just the other nurses.

5. Be Helpful

Honestly, for me, the easiest way to feel like I really fit in somewhere is to be useful and feel needed. It’s just natural for people to like people who help them. 

Obviously on some of your nursing shifts, you will be too busy to even think about lending a hand to anyone. But on the days when you are able to, help your fellow nurses.

I always love checking in with my coworkers when passing them in the hallway. Even just a quick smile and “you doing ok?” can go a long way. 

When you have some time, offer to help your coworker with something and genuinely mean it. Maybe you see one of the nursing aids running around feeling stressed. 

Tell them you can take the patient to the bathroom so that the aid can go do one of the other million tasks they have. I promise you, helping your nursing aid friends out will really endear you to them.

Just because you are a nurse, does not mean you are above or better than them. There are no tasks that are below you. 

If your patient needs a linen change, and the nursing aid is super swamped, go help your patient. Linen changes and toileting and anything an aid does is within your scope of practice.

Helping people feels good, that’s probably one of the reasons you wanted to go into nursing to begin with. Don’t forget that helping your nursing coworkers is included in this! 

I don’t advocate helping your coworkers as a way to get them to help you as “pay back.” But creating a culture of reciprocity, teamwork, and mutual respect is exactly what the world needs.

We are all in this together, and together we are so much stronger.

Feeling like you belong at your nursing job is about making connections. It is about fostering a culture where people want to work TOGETHER and HELP each other. You will find that some days, your nursing coworkers will be the only thing keeping you sane through your shift. 

They can help you when you are behind, they can listen when a patient is THISCLOSE to driving you crazy, they can make you laugh and motivate you when you feel like you royally screwed something up (trust me, it’s probably not as bad as you think). Nursing friends can make you a gourmet PB and graham cracker sandwich when it’s 3 am and you haven’t eaten and the cafeteria is closed. 

Nursing is a team sport. We are all in this together. We all have some shifts where we have maybe a little extra time to help our nursing friends out, and we all have nights where it feels like there isn’t even enough time to breathe.

I call these really crazy nights black hole shifts – because it feels like I fell into a black hole and somehow got spat back out at the end of my shift. Do I remember a single thing that happened during that shift? Not really. Did I remember to chart everything? Eh, maybe. At least all my patients are still alive… pretty sure. 

These are the shifts that it is really nice to have an amazing support system of nurses and aids and people with you to help you through. 

Remember that other people have these shifts, too. Be there for them when they do. 

These are also the shifts that I have the hardest time falling asleep after, because my mind won’t stop questioning if I did everything or if I forgot to bring that patient the water they asked for 13 hours ago. If you have this problem, too, read my other post about how to quiet your mind to help you fall asleep

Like I say, nursing is hard enough, especially when you are new. Use these tips to help you fit in and make friends at your first nursing job.

What are the things that make your nursing unit’s culture so great?

As always, I would love to connect with you on social!

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