New graduate nurse Renee asks:
I am a new nurse just starting my first job. Working with some nurses, I feel I can do this. However, a couple of nurse preceptors get upset when I don’t know all the answers and treat me like I am incompetent. They tell other people behind my back, that I’m stupid. This decreases my self confidence. I have worked so hard to get here. I want to succeed and someday, guide new graduate nurses like me. Sometimes I feel so lost and doubt myself. Have I been out of school too long? Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a nurse? When I ask other nurses these questions, they say “Keep trying. You will get it.” What can I do?
Nurse Mentor Nancy’s answer:
Hang in there, Renee. Don’t let a few negative nurses get you down. Their behavior could be considered lateral violence or at least fostering a negative environment. It needs to stop. Here are 3 strategies for you to try:
1. Talk with the negative nurses individually and privately. Say something like:
“I know you are disappointed when I do not know the answers to all of your questions. I appreciate the opportunity to work with an experienced nurse like you. I need your help just like you probably did when you first started in nursing. Please give me direct feedback about what I do well and what I need to improve upon, and I will do my best to learn what I need to so I can succeed in this job.”
2. If that does not work or you are more comfortable not talking directly to these preceptors, talk with your manager. Say something like this:
“Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I know I am fresh out of school and have a lot to learn. I want to be successful in this job. Most of my preceptors are wonderful, but there are a couple who get upset when I don’t know all the answers and treat me as if I ‘m incompetent. They tell other people behind my back that I am stupid. I’d like this to stop. If they think I need to learn something, then I would like that direct feedback. Could we arrange a meeting so I could tell them this with you there to make sure we are able to talk with each other?”
3. If neither of these work, see if you can avoid/not work with the negative preceptors and spend as much time with the positive nurses as you can. Be open to their feedback and act on their advice. Do not expect them to teach you everything. Take some initiative. Carry a notebook with you and write down anything you don’t know or have questions about. Instead of always asking your preceptor, wait until after work to go back to your nursing books and find the answers. Refuse to listen if someone tries to tell you what a negative nurse says behind your back. Just tell them that you don’t want to know, and if these negative nurse have something to say they can say it directly to you. That sends a message to everyone that you will only communicate directly.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. You will need at least six months or even a year to feel really comfortable in your new position. Remember when learning something new to first watch the task, then do it with someone watching and then do it alone with your preceptor nearby. Write down things you might not remember later and refer back to your notes when you need to. That is how you retain what you have been taught. Don’t be disappointed in yourself when you make a mistake. All nurses do. The more experience you gain, the less mistakes you will make. What is important is from you to learn from each mistake so that you can avoid repeating it. Celebrate anything you do right. As time goes by you will do more and more things right and gain in self confidence as a result. Know that all nurses had to start somewhere. Some of your nursing preceptors may need to be reminded of that. Remember this experience, when you get to the point that you are teaching new graduate nurses.