A NUM’S top 7 tips for early career nurses

Pauline Ryan

Starting out your nursing career can be daunting, exciting and challenging.

Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) Pauline Ryan works at Victoria’s Monash Medical Centre in a cardiothoracic and respiratory unit, overseeing everything from daily operations to engaging with patients about their care and monitoring clinical standards.

A large part of her role involves supporting and empowering staff to perform to the best of their ability.

Pauline believes a successful work culture is built on trust, accountability, transparency and shared goals.

“The best teams have a shared vision based not only on outstanding clinical care but also on values,” she explains.

“The best health outcomes are also about meeting our patients’ emotional needs and ensuring they are informed. Focusing on the human aspect of patients is so important and needs to be role-modelled.”

Thinking back to her own days as a fledgling nurse, Pauline says the best piece of advice she received was to “trust your gut”.

She says staff need to be supported with education and professional development but also must feel safe and confident enough to speak up and challenge the norm.

“Sometimes you can look at a patient and just know that something isn’t right, even when their vitals tell you another story. Ninety-nine per cent of the time you are right. Speak up, tell your nurse in charge, a senior nurse or the doctor.”

As a NUM, Pauline admits being responsible for a group of staff can be difficult and that it’s important to acknowledge that challenges exist on both sides of the fence.

“I’ve learnt that it’s ok to be vulnerable and let your staff know when you’re stressed out or even not sure – we are all human after all,” she says.

“I have learnt over the years that there is always someone to listen to or seek advice from.

“It’s important to have increased self-awareness. Staff watch your reactions and feed off your energy. A great NUM to me is someone that is both a patient and staff advocate, innovative, kind and not afraid to speak up.”

Pauline shared her top 7 tips for early career nurses with the ANMJ to help them along the journey as they navigate the profession.

  1. Ask questions

I always worry if a new staff member never asks questions or for help. We don’t expect you to know everything so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  1. No shortcuts

Follow processes even if it takes you longer. Lay down a strong foundation during your early career days by always following correct processes. It will take longer to begin with but you will become a super nurse this way.

  1. Communication

Communication and connection are vital so create a space where you can connect with other grads or new employees to share information and debrief.

Our educators use “team app” but there are other free apps out there that share tips/tricks.

Sit with your team and have lunch. Talk to your NUM or educator if you’re struggling. Connect with those around you.

  1. Be patient oriented

Don’t be task oriented; be patient oriented. I often see new nurses become consumed with checklists or tasks. You need to be holistic in your care.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Your grad year is about learning. Think of feedback in a positive light and a method to improve yourself.

  1. Trust your gut

Your gut/intuition will develop over the years so learn to trust it.

  1. Practice mindfulness

This is the best piece of advice I wish I had been told all those years ago.

Nursing requires increasing resilience and strong mindfulness practices can support this.

Find out what mindfulness practice works best for you and practice. It took me nearly a year to be able to meditate effectively and now I complete a meditation every night before bed.

If your team doesn’t practice mindfulness, talk to your NUM about creating a group of “wellness warriors” who facilitate mindfulness activities for your team.

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