Life as a graduate nurse or graduate midwife can be intimidating, but Nurse & Midwife Support shares some steps you can take to help you survive the year.
As a graduate, you’re on a steep learning curve that can be simultaneously rewarding and overwhelming. The prospect of entering your grad year can cause an array of feelings — such as excitement, nervousness, curiosity, and apprehension. The anticipation of the unknown can trigger a stress response and feelings of uncertainty and worry, but you can adopt strategies and lifestyle interventions to maintain optimal wellness and support your brain and body’s needs through this time.
These interventions include:
- Prioritise good nutrition
Eating a healthy diet with a focus on whole fresh foods can be a lifeline when we are busy and working hard. When we are transitioning into a new job that brings a lot of change, choosing foods that best support brain function will help us to think more clearly, make better decisions, and assist us to feel mentally healthy.
There is strong evidence that eating well helps to prevent and manage mental health issues. A 2019 survey of 46,000 people found that dietary interventions were associated with reduced symptoms of depression. Another fascinating 2021 study found that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to lower levels of stress.
Of course, we all know that eating good food is good for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. So how can you support yourself to improve or maintain a nutritious diet?
- Meal planning is key. There will be times when you are tired, may have low energy, or don’t have the time to cook, so having meals ready to go in the fridge or freezer is super helpful. It can be useful to do a meal preparation day once or twice a week where you decide what you may like to eat ahead of time and cook and freeze meals.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Sometimes you’re going to have rough days when you haven’t planned ahead. You don’t need to overthink healthy meals on those days. What are the easiest ways you can get some nutrition into your day? Try to make a list of easy ways you can boost the nutritional value of your day’s intake in a pinch. Some days it’s fine to grab some pre-cut carrot sticks at the supermarket and snack on them alongside a meal of scrambled eggs on toast or to throw some broccoli in the airfryer to supplement the cheese toastie you’re eating. Think about the lowest-effort ways you can give your day a boost so you’ve always got them to fall back on.
- No matter what, make sure to eat. Eating regular meals when you are working will ensure you have the energy and clarity of thought to support yourself through each shift.
- Move your body
Exercise is an important way to stay well during your grad year. Most people are aware of the need for exercise but struggle to engage in it for a variety of reasons. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Again, you don’t have to be a perfectionist. Some of us overwhelm ourselves by thinking we have to do too much — sure, the minimum optimal recommendation is 30 minutes a day, but any exercise is better than none. One study found ten minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day increases focus and problem-solving abilities. A quick ten-minute walk or run before work is a great way to improve cognitive function and enhance your learning.
- Not all exercise has to be high-intensity cardio. Exercise that engages the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system will help you manage fatigue and distress — yoga, tai chi, stretching, or dancing is perfect for this. A 5–10-minute yoga session when you get home from work can be a wonderful way to let the stress go and recharge your batteries.
- Finding a form of exercise that you enjoy is the key to sticking with it! Many people think they hate exercise until they try something new like weightlifting, dancing, swimming, or Zumba. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, now is a great time to give it a shot. Maybe you won’t find an activity you passionately love, but you’re sure to find something you can tolerate.
- Find a mentor
Having a mentor to provide guidance and support through the grad program can be invaluable.
A mentor can be anyone with more experience than you — preferably someone you have a good rapport with, who makes you feel comfortable, and who you can be honest with. You should feel validated and positive about the support and advice they offer. Some potential mentors are:
- an ANUM
- A senior nurse/midwife
- A NUM or
- even a less experienced midwife/nurse that you look up to, someone that you feel is a good clinician and could be a positive role model for you.
If you’re not sure how to ask them to be your mentor, you don’t have to overcomplicate it — ask if you can get coffee sometime.
- Advocate for a roster that works for your health, not against it
Before you say anything: we know this isn’t always easy to achieve in every organisation, especially at the beginning of your grad program when you may not have much flexibility with your roster due to being paired supernumerary or on the shift as an educator/preceptor. However, as time goes by you should be able to request some of your roster preferences, or swap shifts with other staff members. Once you feel you comfortable that you have flexibility in your roster, we encourage you to get comfortable advocating for your health and wellbeing.
- Plan for downtime: It’s important that you have a roster that allows you to get enough sleep, have recovery time after shifts and ensure a work/life balance where you have sufficient time for self-care and time with friends and family. You are more likely to enjoy your work and sustain yourself in the profession long-term if your roster suits your needs as much as possible.
- Think about your shifts in relation to each other: Try to avoid working late/earlies and plan your night shifts in advance in a way that works for you. Working too many shifts in a row can burn you out, so try to split your shifts up with a day or two off in between.
- Practice asserting your boundaries so you feel more secure turning down requests to take on extra shifts. Professional boundaries are an essential tool to protect your health and promote safe practice, but they’re not always easy to communicate. In 2022, boundaries specialist Dr Wendy McIntosh joined us to share her tips on how to get better at advocating for yourself and your boundaries:
If you’re struggling to adapt to the roster or feel you’re being pressured to take on unsafe schedules, give Nurse & Midwife Support a call to talk it over — 1800 667 877. Nurse & Midwife Support can help you identify strategies to handle the situation.
- Take care to unwind after work
Sometimes it takes conscious effort to leave the stress and anxiety of the workplace in the workplace. We recommend you consciously adopt rituals to help you make the transition:
“End the day with a positive ritual. Create your own rituals and habits to close out the day and leave your stress behind. Remove your lanyard and take a deep breath. Visualise all the pressure and intensity of the day leaving your body and mind with your breath. Leave the workplace with farewells and affirmations to and from your colleagues.
On the way home think about one or two positive things that happened that day or acknowledge something you did well. Plan to do an activity you will look forward to when you get home such as a hot shower, walk in the park or seeing a friend.”
Find out more: De-stress, not distress: How to unwind after work.
- Create and protect work/life balance
The grad year can be all-consuming. Many grads have found it difficult to maintain a life outside of work. This is natural and to be expected as you will become immersed in the work while you are learning.
However, to sidestep burnout, it is critical to devote time to yourself in your non-working life.
- Carve out social time with friends and family — this will help keep you balanced and nourished.
- If you need it, protect quiet time to yourself, too. Nursing and midwifery jobs can be extremely mentally, emotionally, and sensorily stimulating and require a high degree of social interaction. It’s common to need time to yourself to recover. Protect and defend your quiet time when you need it.
- Keep up with any interests or hobbies you have that fill your cup up and find ways to spend time on your health such as cooking healthy meals and exercising.
- It can be tricky juggling all the commitments you will have. Putting a plan in place can be useful. Check out the Wellness Portal where there is a wellness plan created by Nurse & Midwife Support to help you get started.
- Manage your stress response
Stress is inevitable, we all experience it. Stress in and of itself is not the enemy; in fact, we all need some stress in our lives to grow, change, and motivate us to learn.
What you want to avoid is staying in a high-stress state for long periods of time.
The stress that you will experience at work is often beyond your control. What you do have control of is your internal response to that. You can learn ways to better cope with stress so that when faced with difficult circumstances you feel better able to manage it and support your resilience.
Research around stress management has exploded in recent times. We now have at our fingertips many highly effective strategies for managing stress. I have covered some of those above: eating well, exercising and social connection all help to keep our stress at healthier levels.
- Journaling might be a positive way to process your experiences.
- Try to avoid regularly using alcohol and/or other drugs as a stress-management tool — in the long run, it can heighten your stress.
- You may implement a mindfulness or meditation practice. Even ten minutes a day has positive benefits. One study found that mindfulness training lowers biomarkers of stress in people with anxiety. Apps such as Smiling Mind are available to get you started.
- Build your support team
As the graduate year can be mentally and emotionally demanding, seeking out extra support can be beneficial.
- Nurse & Midwife Support is available 24/7. The service is free, confidential and nationwide – 1800 667 877. The support services are operated by experienced nurses and midwives who understand what you’re going through and can talk through any issues you’re having and refer you on to further support if appropriate.
- Form a support group with other graduate nurses or midwives, and get together regularly to discuss any issues you might be having with people who are going through the Clinical supervision is another forum you can use to discuss patient care in a safe and supportive environment. Clinical supervision is a peer-educative way to increase understanding of clinical issues and gain feedback and input into your practice. This is an out-of-pocket cost to you but you can claim this as a work-related expense at tax time. Learn more about the benefits of clinical supervision or find a list of potential supervisors on the Australian Clinical Supervision Association website.
The graduate year can be tough, so every bit of support helps. If you feel like you’re struggling, reach out instead of feeling like you have to carry everything alone. Remember: Nurse & Midwife Support is here for you whenever you need them!
Call Nurse & Midwife Support on 1800 667 877 anytime to talk or visit https://www.nmsupport.org.au/