Advice for New Nurses: Find a Mentor, Take Some Chances, Speak Up

Experienced caregivers offer their best wisdom for a rewarding career

Advice to young nurses

Between January and March of this year, more than 47,000 registered nurse candidates passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN®), the test required by all who wish to practice in the United States. Thousands of new graduates enter the nursing profession each year, and thousands more matriculate into nursing programs where they are challenged to acquire countless new facts and skills.

What are some of the principles that can help guide them as they establish their footing? With new nurses especially in mind, experienced Cleveland Clinic nurses offer advice for a thriving career.

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Meredith Foxx, MSN, MBA, APRN, NEA-BC, PCNS-BC, PPCNP-BC, CPON, Executive Chief Nursing Officer: “Three traits have grounded me in my career journey: courage, positivity and confidence.

“Have the courage to speak up for patient safety and high quality care. Put yourself in that bed and consider how you would want to be treated.

“Be positive. You do make a difference to your patients, their families and your colleagues. At the end of each day, I reflect: How did I make patient care better, safer?  There are days when that answer can be harder to come by. Return to work with ideas and innovation.

“Have confidence. You have been educated and trained to be a professional who critically thinks to make safe decisions for their patients.”

Beth Faiman, PhD, CNP, Nurse Practitioner: “When you find something you are passionate about, stick with it. If you work in an area where you don’t feel valued, or you do not care about the condition you are managing or treating, keep looking. Consider shadowing a nurse on another unit or speaking with someone in an outpatient area. The Cleveland Clinic culture encourages us to be happy in our professional lives. If you are happy at work, you provide better care for patients and coworkers.”

Say yes to professional growth opportunities

Jane Hartman MSN, RN, NP-C, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner: “When opportunity knocks, open the door. Many hesitate because they have fear of the unknown, but I have grown tremendously in my profession by saying yes even when I was apprehensive about moving forward.”

Sarah Croes, MS ITM, BSN, BGS, RN-BC, CPHIMS, CAPM, Informatics Manager: “There are so many different opportunities available within the nursing profession. Explore different career options to find which type of practice brings the most joy to your work. The nursing profession changes rapidly, so commit to being a life-long learner.”

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Identify the human resources that can offer help when you need it

John T. Baker, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, Vice President of Nursing and Operations at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Lodi Hospital: “Over the years, healthcare has become very complex. Technology has expanded, our patients have become sicker, and it often feels like new therapies are developed every day. To provide the highest quality of care, nurses need to know who their resources are and be able to rely on them to help bridge the gap in their own knowledge.

“Speaking up is just as important. This not only is true when you don’t know something, but when you see something that is not right or when you have a great idea. By speaking up, we can prevent harm, find better ways to provide care, and ultimately ensure nursing has a voice.” 

Dianna Copley, DNP, APRN-CNS, Clinical Nurse Specialist: “Join professional organizations and fill out a volunteer profile. I am serving as the chair for the 2020-2022 National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists website and listserv committee after a mentor suggested I would be a good fit for the organization’s mission and vision. The few hours I spend at home working on these professional growth activities always leaves me excited for the future of nursing.”

Look in unexpected places for a good mentor

Nancy Albert, PhD, CCNS, CHFN, CCRN, NE-BC, FAHA, FHFSA, FCCM, FAAN, Associate Chief Nursing Officer, Office of Nursing Research and Innovation: “Find a mentor or coach—someone who will give you sage advice; someone you can learn from or follow. The person may not be a nurse or even a healthcare provider. There are many leaders you can learn from or emulate, from near or afar — the leader may even be an author.

“Set goals and navigate the landscape to achieve them. You may need to change directions, take a step back to move forward, or talk to new people about how to proceed, as that is all part of making progress. Expect the unexpected and take advantage of opportunities that land at your feet.

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“Look for the good in everyone. Most people want to be their best self, want to grow in their job and have the right mindset in terms of their job role. Conflict can lead to growth, but so can harmony and collaboration. Look for collaborative opportunities and follow-through on the associated work.

Georgina Morley, PhD, Nursing Ethics Program Director. “Create time and space for ethical reflection and to consider the biases and personal values that you bring to your work. When considering the right thing to do for patients and families, it is important to recognize how your personal values and beliefs can influence the way in which you think about ethically challenging situations.

“Develop self-care strategies early on in your career and explore what works for you. Nursing is rewarding yet difficult work, and it is just as important to look after yourself as it is others. It is even written in the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses!”

Joan Kavanagh, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, Associate Chief Nursing Officer, Nursing Education and Professional Development: “It’s all about relationships. Be thoughtful, be strategic, be bold, and build relationships with your patients, your leaders, your team members.  I believe nursing is the core of our healthcare system, and that nurse-patient relationship is critical. We are the hub of the wheel, the integrators of care, we are the 24-hour surveillance to protect, advocate, teach and care for our patients. Patients, their families and providers all depend on us; that’s a privilege. 

“Ask the tough questions. You will hear things like ‘This is best practice,’ or ‘it’s evidence-based practice.’  If something doesn’t make sense to you or doesn’t seem right, ASK the tough questions and then do the research. The evidence may change. Have the courage to go against popular thinking. Raise the bar and move the professional practice of nursing forward.” 

Bring a joyful attitude to work

Nancy DeWalt, MSN, RN, NE-BC, Magnet Program Manager, Hillcrest Hospital: “Find joy in whatever needs to be done. The workload doesn’t get easier, but the care and admiration for you from patients and families and fellow caregivers makes the load a little bit lighter. Keep a soft and loving heart for the wellbeing of your patients needing care, but also for yourself. Let the light of loving life for all shine brightly. You make a difference for so many.”