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12 lessons I’ve learnt in my first year as a Registered Nurse

Hello from 2017! 

Today whilst packing my life into boxes ready to move house, I came across the journal I so diligently wrote every day for the first couple months of my grad year (before discovering how delightful – and necessary – the extra half hour of sleep I could get every night if I didn’t journal). So as one does, feeling a little nostalgic, I opened it up and started reading through my reflections of those first few months of my nursing journey. Reading through those pages I had a couple of laughs and also realised how much I have grown and learnt as a nurse, without even realising.  

And so today I want to explore some of the serious and not-so-serious lessons I have come to learn in my first year as a registered nurse.

1) Shift work is exhausting

This is probably the first thing I learnt as a nurse. It doesn’t matter if you got 8 hours sleep, making plans before/after work will (likely) ruin you for days to come because waking up at 5am is exhausting in itself! And don’t even get me started on “late-earlies”. Every nurse knows that late-earlies are our biggest nemesis.

2) There is no “I” in nursing unless you are trying to win a spelling bee

As a nurse, you are one person in a team of many caring for your patients. There is always someone there to help you – doctors, PSA’s, NUMs, ANUMs, ward clerks and of course your fellow nurses. So when you feel like you are inundated with 1001 things you need to do STAT, or when you don’t feel confident performing a certain skill, ask for help. There is always someone with more experience who will be willing to help. But remember, you are there to help them too so when the tables turn (and believe me they will, and quickly!) help them back.

3) Nursing is a HUGE responsibility

I guess I always knew this, but it has really hit home now that I am practicing as a nurse every day. I mean, I AM LOOKING AFTER PEOPLES LIVES HERE! If I mess up, there is chance my patient could die. I could lose my registration. It’s a serious job. You will learn to think seriously and carefully about your decisions and actions.

4) Mistakes will happen, but that doesn’t mean you should give up your career

As humans, we all make errors and some people’s errors have greater consequence. For us nurses (and doctors), mistakes can have life changing consequences if they’re not detected and counteracted. So own up to any mistakes you might have made as soon as you recognise it, because as I said above, you are dealing with people’s lives! And try not to beat yourself up about it too hard – just because you made one mistake doesn’t mean you should give up your entire nursing career.

5) You NEED a hobby

Nursing is a fast-paced, high-responsibility job which requires you to be switched on at all times during your shift. It is therefore really important that when you are not at work you fill your time with things that help restore some calm, fun and enjoyment to your life and which help you to relax and unwind. For me this is enjoying brunch – solo or with company, being in the kitchen cooking and baking, getting lost in the pages of a good book, or writing – my blog or poetry.  Whatever it is, a good hobby is a necessity for a nurse!

6) Nurses LOVE food

As much as I love baking delicious treats, my fellow nurses love eating them! If there is free food, you can count on nurses to be aware of its whereabouts. It doesn’t matter if it is 7am in the morning, after toileting a patient or 10pm in the evening, nurses are always ready for a good feed – preferably a free one! 

7) Some people stick with you

There is no explanation as to why some patients stick with you more than others, but they do. Maybe it is their circumstance, attitude or a shared common interest, but whatever the reason, you will always have a few patients whose name you can recall weeks/months after caring for them. Often it is these patients who touch our hearts the most, in one way or another, and give nursing its unique beauty.

8) NEVER say the “Q” word…just never mention the busyness of a shift

If you mention how “quiet” it is on the ward, I hope you are prepared to be death glared by every nurse/doctor/PSA/ward clerk/allied health team member within ear shot. It is universally known to NEVER SAY THE Q WORD, or you will jinx it and suddenly all hell will break loose with only yourself to blame.

9) Doctors aren’t nurses

Ok, this might be stating the obvious here but let me elaborate. Nurses deal with just about every kind of bodily fluid on a daily basis – we inspect it, clean it, discard it…you name it. And while doctors might talk about it on the ward, they will avoid at all cost having to come eye to eye with it and outside of the ward cringe a little too hard at the mention of it over a meal – but not nurses!

10) It is OK to cry

I remember feeling so embarrassed the first time I cried at work. I felt really silly that a little lady, who in her delirium was yelling at me, could make me cry. But not one of my colleagues, doctors or nurses, belittled my tears. Instead they hugged me, told me to go have a glass of apple juice until I felt better and validated my feelings because after 7 days of work in a row, everyone is a little fragile. And I realised that day sometimes it is ok to cry at work or because of the things we as nurses have experienced at work. At the end of the day, we are human too with real human emotions to keep in check, to make us really fantastic nurses!

11) I’m not just a nurse

According to the testamur I received at graduation, I am a registered nurse. But according to the requests of my patients and the duties I carry out at work, I am so much more. I am a TV and bed technician, a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a secretary, a doctor-patient liaison, a professional cup-of-tea maker, an advocate and an educator.

12) Palliative Care nurses are a special breed

I can honestly say I have never met a group of people who are so genuinely caring. They comfort patients in their final moments, support families through their grief and still have love left over to smile and laugh together. I am in awe of the amazing work the beautiful Palliative Care Team do and feel honoured to have learnt to love and care so unconditionally as they do. 

And there you have it. A selection of lessons I have learnt in my first year practicing as a registered nurse. I assure you there are many more, but I’d need 365 days of your time to share them all.

Until next time,
Challenge your mind and learn something new every day!


  1. Emma you are an amazing nurse! Thank you for caring for my Nan in pallative care last year. Your caring, energetic attitude made a though time easier for us all.

  2. Chelsea Jan 31 2017

    You rock em, will miss you heaps but your skills and kind nature are above and beyond. Awwwuh!

  3. Wonderful Emma! Always great to read your reflections. Congrats on finishing the grad year!!

  4. Bambi Feb 14 2017

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.