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One piece of advice to new RNs

Between what to study, what to prioritize, how to handle patients, coworkers, stressful situations... if you limited yourself to one piece of advice, what do you think would make a new nurse's transition to the job a successful one? An important strategy might not be a clinical consideration, but a personal relations one.

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Having precepted some new graduates on the floor and in ICU, and having recently been one myself, if I could only give one piece of advice to any new graduate nurse, it would be this: accept criticism with grace and gratitude.

Even if you suspect the person giving it to you is a bully, even if you disagree with them, even if someone else has given you literally the exact opposite advice--give them a smile, as genuine of one as you can manage.

Then, even if you'd like nothing more than to punch them in the face, thank them for taking the time to explain the situation to you (or ask them to, if they haven't). Lastly, assure them you'll try harder to be better about whatever it was they were addressing with you.

Again, be as genuine as you can and don't be facetious (even if you don't feel justly judged: fake it 'til you make it!) We've all been there. Hearing criticism is never pleasant, but here in this field, nine times out of ten, it isn't because someone is trying to make you miserable, it's for the patient, it's for the unit, and it might even be for your own future success.

Perhaps, you're wondering why this is so important that it would trump what to study, what to prioritize, patient care advice, and a plethora of other things.

Of all the things you could tell a new nurse trying to balance many worlds of conflict, why this?

A French professor--one of those existential ponderers whose lectures and metaphorical references went far beyond what our novice undergraduate eyes had read--once said to me, "Of course, we all know the seven deadliest sins.

But which is the worst? Pride." Interestingly, he never bothered to explain why, despite the few students who dared to ask, but merely gave a shrewd look from over his reading classes before switching subjects.

It's been years since this lecture, and his words still haunt me. We were, at the time, discussing Madame Bovary and not anything relating directly to nursing, but I find the lesson of pride so applicable in this field. To new graduates in particular, why is pride so damning?

The first step is acceptance. (How many self-help books have crooned this one line?) You can't fix the problem if you don't see a problem. And perhaps you really don't see a problem.

The problem with pride is that it's the ultimate barrier to change---more so than laziness or fear. Being confronted with something that someone has found you did wrong is uncomfortable at the very least. Perhaps you'll feel the need to defend yourself--don't. To people more experienced than you, a defensive explanation, however polite, is generally unnecessary unless you are doing so in an attempt to figure out together what went wrong in your thinking.

Being able to take criticism well (as in: quickly, easily, without a wounded ego) shows your ability to grow. It shows that you're willing to fix whatever might be wrong. Senior nurses find that this is a safe behavior and therefore appreciate it.

But wait--maybe they're wrong. Maybe you have realized that you've struck the unfortunate luck of landing in a hostile work environment and you know this advice-giver is just antagonizing you to be a heartless soul-sucking bully. Even if this is the case, you get nothing by being defensive.

This shows that they got under your skin enough to make you feel like you have to defend yourself. Instead, ask them to explain their reasoning. Ask what you can do better. And after all is said and done--very important--smile cheerfully and assure them that you'll do your best to follow their sound advice. If you feed into their ego without letting them bring down yours, they might just start leaving you alone. Wouldn't that be a win-win?



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