What It’s Really Like To Be A New Grad Nurse


Ever wondered what it’s actually like to work day in and day out as a nurse? Or if they ever bump into McDreamy?

For those who are on their way to a career in nursing, we’ve got the skinny on what’s it’s like to be a young nurse from two women who are working hard to keep their communities healthy.

“Be flexible. Work hard. Respect and support your fellow nurses. It isn’t easy, but it is totally worth it.” —Abigail Keeso, Registered Nurse (Ryerson ’12 grad)

Erin Okanik is a nurse at KitchenerWaterloo’s Grand River Hospital, where she has been working as a Registered Nurse since graduating from Western University in 2009. As if being a busy full-time Emergency Room Nurse wasn’t enough, she is also currently completing her master’s degree.

Abigail Keeso graduated from Ryerson University in 2012, and has since been working as a Registered Nurse in the Infectious Diseases Department at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. When she’s not wielding a stethoscope, Abigail writes about health and wellness. You can see what she’s up to on Twitter.

What is a typical day like for you?

Erin: I work in the ER and there is no such thing as a typical day! Depending on which area of the department I am assigned to, I could be helping to set and cast broken bones, or I could be the trauma nurse, working with a team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists or paramedics to resuscitate a patient in cardiac arrest.

The ER I work in sees all types of patients – from children to geriatric. The youngest patient I have ever cared for was 45 minutes old and the oldest was 105 years old. You need to be prepared for everything because you can never predict what might come through the doors.

Abigail: Depending on how sick my patients are, I can have anywhere from one to three patients. I go through my patients’ care plans to get an understanding of their diagnosis and the plan of care. After I have briefed myself, I then sit down with the nurse from the previous shift so he or she can tell me what has happened over last 12 hours. Then, I hit the floor running, introducing myself to my patients and their families, building those relationship, checking vital signs, blood work  dressing changes, specimen collection, hanging IV solutions, giving medications, etc.

Throughout the shift I work and consult with a large interdisciplinary team (including medical doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, respiratory therapists, registered dietitians, etc.). While these people are in and out throughout the day, I am with the patients all day, and I am responsible for making sure orders and implemented and advocating for my patients’ needs.

Is there anything you wish you had known when you were still a nursing student?

Erin: That nursing is NOTHING like those medical TV shows that I was always watching (ahem….Grey’s Anatomy). Nursing in the real world can be physically and emotionally exhausting, dirty and sometimes tedious. Also, I have yet to meet a doctor who looks like McDreamy!

Abigail: One thing that sticks out is how much I learn every single day on the job. You certainly do not come out of nursing school ready to be an excellent nurse. With advances in medicine, drugs, technology and research, things are constantly changing.

How do you stay connected to the larger nursing community outside of work?

Abigail: I am a member of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), which offers support for nurses and professional development opportunities. I use Twitter to follow and connect with other RNs around the world, and to try to make the world a healthier place one tweet at a time. I also love reading nursing blogs. It is neat to see the issues other nurses are facing and how they are coping.

How did you find your first job out of school, and how did you decide which employer was the best for you?

Erin: I got my first job out of school through Ontario’s New Graduate Initiative (NGI). This program funds hospitals to provide new nurses with six months of full-time work, partnered one-on-one with an experienced nurse. So, for six months, you get as much support as you need while you transition into a “real” nursing job. I was hired into a full-time, permanent position three months into my NGI.

Abigail: Nursing is a unique career in the sense that you can work anywhere you want, whether it’s in the hospital, the community, at a desk, in the classroom or across the globe. I was lucky enough to do my final clinical rotation at the Hospital for Sick Children and I knew this was the place for me to start my career. Their vision, mission and values aligned with my own, and I loved how supportive and passionate the work environment was. I signed up for the NGI and applied to SickKids through this program, and landed my first job as a Registered Nurse.

Have you noticed any qualities that make someone a particularly successful nurse?

Erin: The nurses I look up to at work share one hugely important quality: they are able to stay positive no matter what. The environment I work in is incredibly stressful, and we help patients and families through the worst days of their lives every day at work. We often work short-staffed and miss out on our lunch or dinner breaks. It’s very easy to sometimes fall into being negative, but it is so important to be able to maintain a positive outlook during a long day at work. These are the nurses I would want to take care of myself or one of my loved ones.

Is there anything else you would want to share with students about to embark on a nursing career?

Erin: Shadow someone who is a nurse for a day, or a few! Nursing as a career is nothing like I imagined it to be. But, that being said, there is nothing else I can imagine doing. I am reminded every day at work why I chose nursing as a career – the people I have the opportunity to meet continue to inspire me and motivate me to be the best nurse I can be.

Abigail: You have to really want it and you truly have to care. Accept that you will never know it all and commit yourself to life-long learning. Be flexible. Work hard. Respect and support your fellow nurses. It isn’t easy, but it is totally worth it.

Healthcare Week on TalentEgg, presented by Northern Health and featuring Rexall and Alberta Health Services

About the author

Ashleigh Trahan is a Toronto-based recruiter and freelance writer. She is one of those pesky Gen-Y's that believes making a living and doing what you love don't have to be mutually exclusive. She's a fast talker, avid runner, and her fine arts degree makes her a formidable opponent in the game of Pictionary. You can connect with her @ashleightrahan.