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'I convinced myself I wasn't cut out for nursing'


Qualifying as a nurse is always going to be a nerve-wracking time, but when Jodi Shaw started to needlessly doubt herself, her anxiety became a problem that affected every part of her life

Every final year student nurse is well aware that there will be a stage of ‘transition’ as they move from student to registered practitioner.

Universities bang on about it, there are articles galore and even entire books dedicated to it; but do newly qualified nurses really know what transition is?

As a newly-qualified nurse and recent victim of transition-shock/reality-shock/6-month-wobble (call it what you will), I’m not sure if NQNs are prepared, or even if they need to be.

As a mature student nurse, with a wealth of life-experience behind me, I felt ready, really ready, on completion of my management placement, to be an actual-full-time-real-life nurse. Maybe that’s why when reality did kick in, I didn’t manage it as well as I met have done.

“I would like to say there was one specific thing that caused me reconsider nursing”

I would like to be able to say something horrendous happened to me, that I was involved in something so terrible that I reconsidered if I even wanted to be a nurse, but it didn’t.

I would like to be able to say that I work in a really difficult area, that’s extraordinarily busy and pressure is high, I do, but that’s besides the point because what area of nursing isn’t like that?!

I would like to say there was one specific thing that caused me reconsider the career choice I had just put three years worth of blood, sweat and tears into training for; but it wasn’t that either.

No-one was mean to me, I had plenty of supernumerary time and was adequately inducted to my area and role.

There was no single trigger to my mini meltdown that caused me to consider applying for a job outside of nursing.

Put simply, at around four months in, the novelty of being a new nurse had worn off. The excitement of a new adventure had lost its shine. Shift patterns are different to when you are a studen. I quickly realised there were no more early finishes and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility had raised ten-fold.

“I’d be annoyed with myself because I knew I already knew the answer”

I don’t remember the exact moment that the realisation of being registered practitioner with a pin actually hit me, but what I do remember is how unsure I felt. I questioned everything; this is usually a good thing and a quality a good nurse possesses, but I questioned things I knew, to the point where I became a burden on my colleagues. This only added fuel to my already-anxious mind, and then I’d be annoyed with myself because I knew I already knew the answer but my low self confidence just wouldn’t allow me to trust myself.

So, what did I do?

Well, I didn’t do all the things I should have done. I did the opposite: I went home and cried (on a number of occasions), I dreaded going into work, I worried and felt almost reluctant when providing patient care because I was so anxious. I couldn’t sleep properly and I wasn’t eating well but still I carried on, going into work and convincing myself that I just wasn’t cut out for nursing.

It wasn’t until a team educator asked me if I was alright (always the tipping point if you are permanently on the verge of tears) that I was given no choice but to be honest about how I was feeling. I told her everything; all my worries, how it was affecting my home life and how I had been looking for alternative jobs.

“She assured me that it was ok to not be ok”

The empathy and compassion she showed me over the next 20 minutes made all the difference. She assured me that it was ok to not be ok. She confirmed what I was experiencing was a ‘wobble’ and told me her, now funny, wobble story. We had a really open conversation about how I felt and she helped me organise some ‘supported working’; support that I have now been discharged from because I’m actually doing alright, my hindrance was my own self-doubt not my lack of skill or knowledge.

I am an ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ kinda gal but there was great, blinding sunshine behind my clouds. The shock I have now experienced has given me greater self-awareness, I am a more thorough practitioner because of it. I now have insight into what transition shock may look like and so will be able to better support my newly-qualified colleagues in the future. It has driven home the utter importance of being open and honest, not just with our patients but with our colleagues and, most importantly, ourselves.

“We are surrounded by nurses and all they ever want to do is help”

It has shown me that if you ask for help, help is available in abundance (we are surrounded by nurses and all they ever want to do is help!)

At the time, I would have argued that I hadn’t been prepared for the shock of transitioning but on reflection I’m not sure how I could have prepared. I think what’s most important to learn from this is that we encourage our newly-qualified colleagues to talk to us should they experience anything that makes them doubt themselves or their abilities; to create an open, safe environment in which they feel confident to able to talk to their peers. Most importantly, experienced staff should be aware and able to recognise the signs of transition shock/reality shock/6 month wobble and know how to support and signpost our NQNs.

At a time when recruitment and retention is high on the NHS agenda; it will be the compassionate, supportive teams that accomplish high staff morale and sustain desirable staffing levels.

Jodi Shaw is a newly qualified staff nurse working in the emergency depoartment at Nottingham University Hospitals



Readers' comments (3)

  • You are lucky that you had that support, many newly qualified nurses feel 'put down' by the 'old timers' who think they know it all.

    We need new nurses, new ideas, a fresh approach, someone who will go in and challenge the outdates systems, doesn't make you popular but with new nurses arriving all the time, change does come about.

    Nursing is about hard work, never giving up, always being there for the patient, and when you turn someones life around ... the feeling is one that money cannot buy!

    It is very important that ALL move with the times, and they are never too old to learn or to change the way they work to ensure patients get the best care.

    Nurses that struggle at the onset usually end up being the best in the long wrong because they really care!
    Too many nurses today are just 'paper chasers' only interested in getting extra qualifications and higher grades (and money) but actually care very little about the patient.

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  • Those old timers were always that way, I saw it as a student myself before I qualified in 2002, and beyond, sad that attitude is still rife, moving them to different jobs would help they become stale in their role for many years and think they own the place. Remember it's about them not you, their issues and insecurities that is, don't let them get you down, tell yourself this and go and find a better job with a better culture, they lost a good nurse end of the day due to their own ignorance.

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  • Hi,

    I just want to say well done. I think it takes a lot to be honest and recognise when you aren't doing well. I think that often in general nursing it is seen as a weakness to not know absolutely everything, or be capable and confident in every situation. I also think as a mature student you internalise a lot, thinking because you are older you should know more and maybe because you are older you recognise gaps of knowledge more than you would if you are younger.

    I also think that it is dangerous not to recognise your own limits and seek help when you need it. Our priority should be our own staff and our patients safety.

    This should be a caring profession and sometimes - and I think everyone is guilty of it - we get too caught up that we don't notice when people are waning or maybe we do notice but we are so busy that we don't give the time to the individual and we forget what it is we all wanted to go into this profession for - to help, to care and to make things just a little, tiny bit better.

    I truly believe there should be more investment into staff wellbeing, both physical and emotional and more work done around the stigma of asking for help and support.


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