Does new grad nurse practitioner life have you feeling frantic? Overwhelmed? Stressed out? Doubting your career decision? No matter the number of years you have worked as a nurse, or the caliber of the NP program you attended, it’s inevitable that you’ll experience these feelings as you begin your nurse practitioner career. You may even feel this way as a more experienced NP in a new setting. When can you expect to feel ease in your new role?
Of course, the level of stress you feel as a new graduate depends on a variety of factors. These things include the competency of management in the practice where you work, the support system (or lack thereof) in place for NPs, and the type of patients you are expected to treat. New nurse practitioners employed in practices where they are expected to treat 3 complex patients per hour right out of school will struggle. Practices that understand new grads and adjust patient volume or acuity as nurse practitioners increase in confidence and competence will experience less stress.
Regardless, of the level of support you receive as a less experienced nurse practitioner, it is normal to feel overwhelmed in your first year of practice. I recall commuting to work in my first months as a nurse practitioner. I spent the whole 20 minute drive convincing myself not to turn around and head back to bed or, better yet, just keep driving past my workplace and disappear into the next state.
While getting lost in Kentucky seemed alluring those anxiety-filled mornings, I decided to stick with it and made it out of my first year of practice alive. It wasn’t pretty. There were bumps along the road, or more like mountains to climb, but in the end I came out a better clinician and individual. So, how long can you expect to feel similarly as a new nurse practitioner?
Overwhelmed: In your first few months of practice, you can expect to feel hopelessly, utterly, overwhelmed. You worry about which patients will appear on your schedule for the day, knowing you will have no less than one million questions about how to treat them. You worry about who to ask for help. You stress about annoying your colleagues. You’re sure patients can see right through you.
Expect to feel overwhelmed for the first several months as a new graduate. Depending on your clinical setting and practice environment, this may even last six months. The light at the end of the tunnel? You will slowly notice your stress level subsiding. You will begin to dread work less, enjoy your job more, and feel less exhausted at the end of the day.
Intermittently Stressed: Most jobs involve some level of stress. Once the feeling of being overwhelmed and in over your head subsides, you can expect an elevated, but not overwhelming, level of stress to persist in your day to day as an NP. While you have the first six months of practice under your belt, there are still plenty of clinical scenarios you have yet to encounter. You don’t feel totally competent in your role, but you also know you have helpful information to share with your patients. Your efficiency in the clinic is improving, and your clinical knowledge has increased. You need less and less assistance throughout the workday.
Expect an elevated stress level into the second year of your practice. For some NPs, this heightened stress may even persist through the second year of practice. The light at the end of the tunnel? The field of medicine is huge! No one can master clinical practice in just a few short months or years. Look back at how far you’ve come. Things will only get better from here. With each passing day, you’re further down the path to career confidence.
Confident and Competent: After a few years of practice, one day you’ll have an ‘Aha!’ moment. You won’t feel anxiety about the impending clinical day. In fact, you may look forward to it. Your job will seem appropriately challenging. It will be one in which you feel like you are succeeding, but can always learn more if you want to. You’ll feel comfortable interacting with patients. You won’t always know the best course of action for your patients, but you realize that no provider does. In these cases you may refer the patient or consult a specialist, but you’re confident that the patient’s condition warranted such a referral rather than doubting the decision as one made based on a personal shortcoming.
Expect to feel confident and competent after three to five years of practice. Don’t worry! This is a slow transition, and will gradually occur over the course of your career. You won’t feel consistently overwhelmed for the first five years! With persistence, you can get to this point. Hang in there, new grads. You’ll make it!
Have you felt overwhelmed as a new grad nurse practitioner?
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