A New Grad Nurse Survival Guide

New grad nurse

There’s no doubt nursing school is challenging, and appropriately so given the impact of the role on society. As a nurse, you play an integral part in the health and safety of the patients you serve, publicly representing the most trusted profession in America for an astounding 21 years in a row.

But you did it—you finished nursing school and congratulations! The next part comes in two phases: first, you’ll have to pass the NCLEX and get your license, then it’s time to go find that first job.

It’s probably a little intimidating, but it’s also the thrilling beginning to a brand new adventure, and we’re going to tell you everything you need to know to survive as a new grad nurse.

Passing the NCLEX

The NCLEX is the national exam every nurse has had to pass to become licensed and employable in the healthcare industry. It’s a long test and it covers a lot of information, but don’t sweat: all the nurses you’ve ever met have passed it, and you will too. School has definitely prepared you for success, and after you study up a bit you’ll be ready to go. 

What’s on the Test?

There are four key areas the test covers, and responses can be multiple choice or response, graph or chart analysis, drug calculations, and ordered response. The sections are:

  1. Safe and Effective Care Environment (25-33%)
  2. Health Promotion and Maintenance (6-12%)
  3. Psychosocial Integrity (6-12%)
  4. Physiological Integrity (40-50%)

It takes about 5 hours to complete, so make sure you get a good night’s sleep!

How to Take the NCLEX

To be eligible to take the test, you must have completed a nursing degree from an accredited  ADN or BSN program. Since you’re a new grad nurse, you already meet this requirement! Next, you can register for the test online. You will need to decide what state you want to register in based on where you want to practice and the type of license you are pursuing. It can be a single state or compact license. 

After sending the required paperwork to the appropriate state board of nursing, you’ll receive authorization.

On test day, you’ll need to bring your drivers license or other form of state-issued identification, but everything else will be provided on site. You’re in for a long day, and once you’ve completed the test will take about 6 weeks to get your official results, but you may receive your unofficial results in 2 business days. 

Getting Your First Job

Now that you’ve passed the NXCEL and the board of nursing has licensed you, it’s time to find work. That means going through the application and interview process. The more methodical you can be, the faster you’ll land your first nursing job.

Find the Jobs You Want

Nursing is very transportable, so you’ll want to think about where you want to live and what kind of nursing role you want to fill. Spend a lot of time in front of your screen researching, talk to mentors, professors, and colleagues from your clinicals, and refine the career path you’d like to pursue. 

Create your Resume and Cover Letter

You’ll probably be filling out a lot of applications, and you’ll be using your resume and cover letter over and over. Make sure they are free of grammatical errors, and keep them updated with any new career developments. Ideally, you should be able to print and send quickly without having to think too much. 

Apply Early and Often

Every hospital, clinic, and nursing agency will have their own internal application to fill out, and being successful is about casting a wide net and being proactive about your success. Get as many applications out there as you can, and you’ll start getting calls before you know it! 

Acing Your Interviews

Nursing interviews can be stressful, but with a few expert tips you’ll be reading the room with ease. 

  • Get a good night’s sleep before your interview so you can show up refreshed and ready to go. 
  • Eat a healthy breakfast and dress for success. 
  • Show up on time, and bring a copy of your materials just in case.

Also, every interview involves some questions, and you’ll want to be ready for the common ones you can expect every time. Unlike many other professions, getting to know how you handle people and manage stressful situations is extremely important, so you’ll want to spend time coming up with thoughtful responses.

  • How do you manage difficult personal relationship problems?
  • How would you explain complex industry terms to the average patient?
  • Tell us about an experience with a patient that went well for you.
  • Was there an experience that went badly? How did you handle it?

As you can see, these questions are both practical and also provide a lot of insight into your personality and potential bedside manner. You’ll need to consider your answers very carefully. 

You Got Your First Job! Now It’s Time To Start Learning Again.

First of all, well done! We told you it was just a matter of time, and now that you’re employed, guess what? 

You’ve got a lot to learn. 

Nursing schools do the best they possibly can to prepare you for entering the nursing profession, but to be honest, it’s still not enough. The limited number of clinical sites combined with the constant evolution of advances in medicine leave most nursing schools trying to hit a moving target.

And the reality is, passing the NCLEX only reflects beginning safe entry into practice. But that’s OK! Take advantage of those willing to teach you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and under no circumstances should you ever pretend to know something you don’t. 

Develop a Routine that Works for You

Outside formal policies and procedures, there’s more than one way to get the job done. Routines not only make your job easier, they allow you to avoid oversights and identify what’s normal and what’s a problem. 

While you’re orienting as a newly-employed nurse you will have an opportunity to see how others go about their day. Pay attention, and soak in everything you can. You don’t have to do everything exactly the way they do it, but there’s a good chance they do what they do for a reason. 


You can learn a tremendous amount by simply listening to what’s going on around you. Listening to other nurses give a report to one another or learning how they speak to a physician about a patient helps you learn how to communicate effectively with people in different roles. 

Also, if you have a chance to participate in something like physician or interdisciplinary rounding, do it! This will help you stay up to date with the plan of care for your patients, and creates an incredible learning opportunity.

Finally, don’t ever be afraid to ask questions if you’re concerned, unsure, or just simply want to learn. If your questions are ever not received well, don’t be discouraged. That’s not a “you” problem—that’s a “them” problem.

Tomorrow is a New Day

We would be lying to you if we told you every day would be a good day. Sadly, that’s simply not possible in healthcare. As nurses, we sometimes see people on the worst days of their lives, and while we empathize and maintain a caring mindset, we can’t let that interfere with our work. In the heat of the moment, it’s the nurse’s job to push through and be calm in the storm.

It’s difficult, but tomorrow is a new day.

You’re also going to make mistakes. Even experienced nurses will tell you they’re not perfect, and accidents inevitably happen. The important part is that we learn from those mistakes. Stay strong, get some rest, and get back on the horse. 

Self Care

Nurses are notorious for taking care of others at the expense of their own wellbeing. Nursing can be taxing both physically and emotionally, but without some mechanism of recovery it’s simply not sustainable. 

Self care is an imperative, not an option, and you need to make it a priority before you feel like you’re wearing down. Yoga, hiking, art, exercise, or simply hanging out with friends are just a few ways to prioritize your own well-being. 

Remember: self-care is critical for the caregiver. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Lifelong Learning

Nursing and continuing education are like peanut butter and jelly. They just make sense. As a nurse, you have a responsibility to assure you are supporting best practices in patient care.

CE is far more accessible than it used to be, and online continuing education for nurses has incredible benefits that include things like self-paced learning, the opportunity to refine your skills, and support of your development as a professional. It is also important to know that many states require continuing education as a component of renewing your nursing license.

High-quality continuing education will help you grow as a professional, and the Unlimited Nursing CEU Subscription offered by Premiere can help you meet all your CE needs wherever you are with just a few simple clicks. With one subscription you will have access to incredible learning opportunities created by industry-leading professionals in nursing education that satisfy state licensure requirements across the country and ANCC contact hours.. 

Start Your Career Off Right as a New Nurse

Becoming a new nurse is both exciting and daunting, and the path you’re on will be one of the most exciting journeys of your life! There are numerous opportunities to grow as a nurse, and it’s important to start off on the right foot. Be prepared to learn, take one day at a time, and don’t forget to take care of yourself. You’re always going to be growing as a nurse, and there’s incredible value in the lifelong learning opportunity continuing education provides.

Premiere offers online courses for nurses that cover a wide range of healthcare subjects, and all content is developed by leading industry professionals. Let Premiere set you up for success as a professional, and be your partner in providing the best care possible to the patients you serve. 

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