What to Expect on Your First Day as a Nurse

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
One male nurse explaining to another male nurse what to expect on his first day as a nurse.

The beginning of any job can feel overwhelming, and that’s especially true for your first day as a nurse. You must process a large amount of new information that could have huge impacts on the lives of your patients. Feeling stressed is understandable. Thankfully, preparation can help alleviate that.

You may wonder what to expect on your first day as a nurse, what to bring, where you will go, who you will meet, what your day-to-day schedule will be, and more. Our overview of a typical first day at a nursing job can help you gain a better idea of what awaits.

Before Your First Day

Your new facility will send you information about what will be reviewed during your first day of orientation. It will also inform you about the schedule, expected attire, and whether lunch will be provided.

By now, you should know what type of nursing work you will be doing, and the patient population you will be caring for. For example, if you are working at a long-term care facility, you know you’ll be in a home-like environment working with elderly patients experiencing chronic diseases and the impacts of age. If you are going to be a NICU nurse, you know you will be in a hospital working with critically ill infants. Use your resources to begin learning about the tasks and equipment you will be exposed to. The online nursing community is thriving, so you can find answers to plenty of questions before you even set foot in your workplace.

What Do You Do on Your First Day as a Nurse?

Most nurses will be curious about what to expect on the first day of nursing orientation. In all likelihood, you won’t be performing nursing duties during this time — you’re only expected to listen to various presentations and ask questions.

It’s also unlikely you’ll be expected to perform nursing duties on your first shift as a nurse on the unit. That shift, or the first week, will be spent shadowing your preceptor. A preceptor is a floor nurse tasked with training you. Depending on the facility and your specialty, the length of time may be longer.

Even after the shadowing period, nurses are usually paired with a preceptor for the first three months. Ideally, preceptors are given a lighter patient load during this time to increase their availability to you. Even when they’re unable to have a lighter patient load, it is still their responsibility to be your personal resource during your first few months on the job.

What Will You Learn?

There will be a lot to take in on your first day as a nurse. Not only are you learning how to be a nurse, but also how to be a nurse at that specific facility. You may encounter aspects of nursing that weren’t covered in nursing school. Some examples of topics that will be discussed no matter where you are include:

  • The medical record system used by that facility
  • Insurance and benefits
  • Roles of various administrators
  • General tour of the facility
  • Introduction to the facility’s ideals
  • Training on how to use the equipment

On the first day of shadowing, you will get a better idea of what a typical day will be like when you observe your preceptor’s routine. Remember, don’t hesitate to ask questions. This is the perfect time for that because you will have extra support.

Whom Will You Meet?

You’ll be meeting many new people on your first day as a nurse, including:

What Should You Bring to Your First Day as a Nurse?

What you bring to the first day of your nursing job impacts the first impression you make, and even more so on the first day you’re on the unit. Essentials for the first day of the off-unit orientation include:

  • Multiple pens
  • Notepad, tablet, or laptop to record what you learn and to login to necessary websites
  • Completed documents you were asked to bring
  • Wrinkle-free scrubs or professional attire

On top of what was listed above, you should bring these items on your first day as a nurse on the unit:

  • Stethoscope
  • Watch
  • Water bottle
  • Snack
  • Comfortable shoes
  • A medication reference book, or ensure you have access to cellular service so you can find medication information on your phone

How Is Working as a Staff Nurse Different From Clinical Rotations?

Nursing school offers plenty of preparation, but considering the vastness of the profession, the knowledge you gain from school remains limited. Much of what you learn will be on the job, especially if you enter a unique specialty. Here are a few things you’ll likely be exposed to as a staff nurse:

  • New vocabulary: You’ll encounter new medical jargon, and even words unique to the facility or specific section in which you work. Never hesitate to clarify the meaning of acronyms, procedures, or illnesses. No question is wrong, or foolish.
  • Less preparation time: You likely won’t have time for care plans or any other form of preparation before meeting new patients. You must rely on available resources when you encounter an unfamiliar disease. Take time to refresh yourself so that you have a better idea of what you’re dealing with, and communicate to the charge nurse if you feel uncomfortable with an assignment for any reason. You won’t be assigned homework, but you may find yourself researching topics you encountered at work to prepare yourself for next time.
  • The need for flexibility: It’s important to have an adaptable attitude because healthcare is constantly changing. New medical breakthroughs and public health crises may impact facility protocols. Throughout your nursing career, you may work in a variety of locations with different patient populations, and work cultures vary. The more you embrace change, the easier your nursing career will be.
  • A change in attitude: Most people you encounter during nursing school will be encouraging, hopeful, and desire to uphold personal integrity. That may not always be the case in your workplace. You must strive to maintain your positivity and ethics in the face of stress and exhaustion.

3 Tips for Success on Your First Day as a Nurse and Beyond

  1. You’re not alone. You’ll meet plenty of nurses in person, and there are even more to interact with online. You’re far from the only nurse with questions and struggles. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other nurses when you need an understanding person to listen to you.
  2. Ask questions. You have nothing to lose by clarifying something you don’t understand. In fact, you may help others learn something new in the process. It’s better to be safe than make a preventable mistake because you were reluctant to speak up.
  3. Make time for self-care. Be mindful of your needs on and off the shift. To care for others, you must prioritize yourself to remain safe and healthy.

Your First Day as a Nurse Just Got Easier

If millions of other new nurses can succeed, so can you. IntelyCare can help you feel comfortable in your role by finding you a job that fits your needs. Check out all the available nursing jobs and apply today.