Words to the Wise: AACN Leader Advises New Grad RNs


By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Graduating from nursing school can feel like a whole new world has opened up, and new graduate nurses are looking for direction. Fortunately, Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), is willing to share some of her ideas for nurses just entering the profession.

She suggests seven ways that new grad RNs can invest in their future, build a support system and take advantage of every opportunity.

1. Jump in, listen and learn
“Beginning your first professional position in nursing--or in any other field for that matter--is inherently stressful. I have found that those best able to handle this stress are nurses who jump in with both feet and start asking questions. As a new nurse, the best advice I can give you is not be afraid to seek feedback and counsel from more experienced nurses and never turn down an opportunity to advance your education. When starting out, you often don’t know what you don’t know, so be sure to listen to your supervisor and colleagues, and learn.”

2. Learn two truths that every new nurse should know
“To the new graduate, I would like to share two pearls of wisdom. President John F. Kennedy, Jr., once said, ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’ Completing an RN program is only the first step in your formation as a professional nurse. I encourage all nurses to assume leadership roles within the profession and the larger community, and I have found that the best leaders are those who embrace lifelong learning and are open to developing new layers of expertise.”

“The second nugget is an African proverb, which states, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Don’t ever underestimate how important it is to have a strong professional and personal support system to help sustain your professional and leadership development. Practice today is all about high-functioning teams, so I encourage you to sharpen the skills needed to lead teams and to serve as a strong contributor as a team member.”

3. Consider new grad RN residency programs
“Nurse residencies provide an important bridge for new nurses transitioning from student to professional nurse. RNs who complete residencies, which span 6-12 months, report feeling more confident in their clinical skills and express higher levels of professional satisfaction. At sites with residencies, new nurse turnover is substantially lower than at sites offering only short-term orientation programs.”

4. Expect nursing jobs in a variety of settings
“Fortunately, new grads today have a wide array of choices before them when it comes to settings in which to practice. Healthcare reform is ushering in new models of care delivery that are offering practice opportunities for nurses across settings. As leaders of health/medical homes, nurse-managed health clinics, community health centers and other settings, nurses are fast becoming full partners in driving change in health care. As more patients enter the system and an aging population creates the demand for transformation in health care, many more nurses will be needed to serve in primary care, preventative care and specialty roles, as well as to lead independent practices.”

5. Stay in school vs. take a break
“Whenever possible, I encourage students to stay in school beyond initial licensure, especially if the student’s long-term goal is to practice in advanced clinical, research and/or teaching roles. Many new graduates, even those who plan to return to school soon after assuming their first job, find it difficult to re-enter academia after beginning clinical practice. Juggling job, life and school responsibilities can be difficult, so it’s often easier to stay in school without a break in your studies. The earlier in your career you complete your formal education, the longer your professional life and the higher your lifetime earnings will be.”

6. Engage with nursing organizations and resources
“Getting engaged in professional organizations is a great way to expand your networking opportunities and feel part of the larger nursing profession. These organizations provide programs offering leadership development, continuing education and often advanced certification. For nurses seeking a master’s or doctoral degree, AACN operates the Graduate Nursing Student Academy (GNSA) to provide high-value resources and information to facilitate professional development and student engagement. The GNSA offers free webinars, career planning resources, student success strategies, multiple social media platforms for engagement, members-only scholarships, leadership development programming and other services--all for free. I encourage all graduate students to take advantage of all the GNSA has to offer.”

7. Seek mentors now, and throughout your nursing career
“I strongly encourage all new nurses to find a mentor or mentors who can advise on their career development and provide expert guidance. Seek mentors who have traveled the path you are looking to take since these leaders can advise you on what landmines to avoid and what opportunities to pursue. Conversely, there is great value in finding mentors from other fields and disciplines who can expand your thinking about your leadership trajectory, since they often bring fresh perspectives from outside of nursing. I am so grateful for the sage wisdom provided by my mentors who have helped to guide my decision-making and enrich my leadership journey.”

Related articles:
A Career Roadmap for New Grad RNs
Exploring Your Nursing Career Options
Veteran RNs Offer Their Best Advice for New Graduate Nurses

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