‘Invest in the best shoes you can’: What experienced nurses want newer peers to know

Bari Faye Dean

Nurses with decades of experience have been there, done that, seen and heard it all. They are more than willing to share advice about what they wish new nurses could already know and feel today that would help strengthen their practice.

Experienced nurse Marlaina DeSimone, BSN, RN, at Los Angeles-based White Memorial Medical Center, told Becker’s new nurses should never be afraid to ask for help but also to know that, years of experience aside, “even [experienced nurses] need help sometimes.”

Click here to read about what new nurses want senior nurses to know about those who began their careers by jumping into the pandemic chaos.

What do experienced nurses wish newer ones knew about the profession?

There’s advice about what new nurses can, and should, do right now that could alter their experience as a nurse forever. “Find a mentor. Always do your best. Ask a million questions. Give of yourself freely. Care about the person behind the condition. Advocate for your patient until you’re blue in the face no matter how scary it feels,” said Caitlin Jeanmougin, DNP, MSN, RN, of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “Find your tribe and love them hard, because nobody understands the life of the nurse except your fellow nurses.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that while there are so many things new nurses can do to become more confident and skilled now, experienced nurses are also quick to give them a glimpse of what years of service may very well add to their nursing toolbox.

After 30 years, Michelle Salva, BSN, RN, at Shriners Children’s New England in Springfield, Mass., told Becker’s, “Upon your journey, you will collect memories and experiences and most certainly will one day reflect back as to how many lives you have touched. Your mind will be challenged, your feet may be sore and every day will be different — but your heart will be full.”

The bottom line is that a nurse’s education is lifelong. The most important piece of advice, Janet Amirkhanian, DNP, MSN, director of patient care services and nurse executive at Shriners Children’s Southern California in Pasadena, said, “is to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning.”  

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Candace Amato, BSN, RN. Director of Medicine Division/Nurse Administration at Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: As medical science and technology continues to evolve and cutting-edge advancements increase survivability for previously terminal diagnoses, we cannot forget the basic fundamentals of nursing. Regardless of all the breakthroughs in healthcare, communication and teamwork will always be essential. Effective communication and collaborative teams not only promote healthy work environments but also improve quality and safety.

Janet Amirkhanian, DNP, MSN. Director, Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive at Shriners Children’s Southern California (Pasadena): With the healthcare landscape changing so quickly, there will be more complex conditions due to the rise of chronic diseases and comorbidities. With an aging population, nurses should be ready to handle diverse patient needs and be prepared with the critical thinking skills necessary to provide safe, high-quality care.

Ginger Beckom, MSN, RN. City of Hope Atlanta: Nursing is a very rewarding, but a very demanding, career. There is a balance that needs to be maintained between professional life and family life. Know that working in a hospital is hard work; there will be good days and not-so-good days.

Elizabeth Caffery, RN. Children’s Hospital New Orleans: It’s important for new nurses to know that burnout is real, whether it happens at four weeks or four years. We deal with hospital issues (like short staffing), personal issues (like not being able to sleep or family obligations) and patient issues (like a 16-year-old adjusting to being paralyzed). It’s difficult to juggle all these things, but knowing where to turn for support, and that things usually get better, helps.

It’s also important to know that there are so many options in nursing. If you’re not happy in a particular department in a hospital, seek another department that you may be more comfortable in. If you’re not happy with hospital nursing, try a clinic position. It is important to know that there are so many options in this field.

Marlaina DeSimone, BSN, RN. White Memorial Medical Center (Los Angeles) and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center (Laguna Hills, Calif.): Everybody wants to be seen as a person. Being a nurse is more than the IV and giving meds, people are not tasks. Look at the person — it’s a human experience.

Kimako Desvignes, MSN, RN. Associate Nurse Director, Hematology, Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplant and Hospice, Cedars-Sinai,(Los Angeles): Nursing is not easy. There will be happy days, sad days, days you want to pull your hair out, days you want to scream and days you will give 1,000 percent of yourself to make your patient and family happy. Remember what led you to be a nurse and remember why you are still a nurse. Do not forget to care for yourself, mentally, spiritually and physically. If your spirit and mind are not healthy, the care you give to others won’t be either.

Kerri Elsabrout, DNP, RN. Vice President of Patient Care Services at White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital: Learning does not stop after receiving your diploma or after your first year of nursing. As the healthcare environment is continuously changing, so do the people that you connect with, including your colleagues and patients. As time goes on, you will continue to learn, change and grow — and you have to embrace that. That’s the beauty of nursing. No two days, nor two years will ever be the same, but with time you will see that you consistently make a meaningful difference in the lives of so many. 

Janelle Fletcher, BSN, RN. Intensive Care Unit at Raritan Bay Medical Center (Perth Amboy, N.J.): As a nurse, it is important to remember your why. Nursing is a calling. Being a nurse is a commitment. It is important to know your limitations as a new nurse and to not hesitate to reach out to your senior co-workers. Collaboration allows us to provide the best care, comfort and patient experience. Respect to patients, visitors and co-workers creates a healthy work environment, as teamwork makes the dream work.

Jennifer Graham, DNP. Luminis Health Doctors Community Medical Center (Lanham, Md.): Working as a nurse in a hospital is always evolving with technology and evidence-based practice. You must commit to being a lifelong learner. Even with 32 years of experience, I am open to change because I learn something new during every shift.

It is impossible to know everything. But, it is important to understand your resources and critically think through any situation. Despite all the technology and transformation, you must always remember, you are caring for a precious human being. It is truly the little things that matter.

Saramma George, RN. Ascension Saint Thomas West (Nashville, Tenn.): Listen to the senior nurses, even though their education and experience are different from yours. They have a great deal of wisdom and knowledge to share, and they want to maintain high standards of the profession they love so much. They want to raise qualified nurses to carry on their legacy.

My advice: Stay strong and committed. Be bold. Don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Speak up and let your voice be heard on behalf of your patients and your profession. Always stand for personal and professional integrity. Do not sacrifice your values and ethics. Practice to your full potential. Be the change you can be. Never stop learning. Be the voice also for research, making policies that affect the bedside nurse. Take ownership in your profession and your workplace.

Jamerson Holloway, DNP, BSN. RNA-SEQ Manager at the North Las Vegas Veterans Administration: New nurses should know how to balance self-care and the work that they do. You must practice work-life/home balance. That will probably be the biggest contribution new nurses should learn to incorporate to their lifestyle when entering the profession.

Caitlin Jeanmougin, DNP, MSN. Miami University (Oxford, Ohio): If you didn’t choose nursing because it is your passion, you won’t be in the profession long. This work is hard. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting, it asks more of you than you think you have to give, and you will need to be a student for the rest of your career because things are always changing. 

You have to love it enough to be willing to give up some things: weekends, holidays, time with your friends and family, meals, etc. If you’re in it for the right reasons, it will be an extremely fulfilling career.

Charlaine Lasse, BSN, RN. Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center (Annapolis, Md.): Please remember that “we” are more than just bedside nurses. We are educators, advocates, detectives, scientists, policymakers and so much more. This profession can be physically and mentally exhausting and it will make you pause and reconsider your choice of profession. To keep you grounded and connected, it’s important to find a good support system to celebrate the good days and provide support during the bad ones.

Rainbow Laurant, BSN, RN. RN Navigator, Genetics at Children’s Hospital New Orleans: As a nurse working in a hospital setting, that hospital becomes your second home, and other people within those hospital walls become your second family. We all need each other.

Patients need nurses and nurses need patients. Other clinicians need nurses and nurses need other clinicians. But don’t forget about the unsung heroes — the environmental services staff, the plant operations staff, the dietary staff, all the “behind the scenes” folks.

Janin Pierce, BSN, RN. Northshore Clinic at Children’s Hospital New Orleans: They will undoubtedly celebrate happy moments and will comfort during the sad. Some days the stress may make them feel like giving up and questioning why they even selected nursing as a career. But, know that one small word or caring touch could be a life-altering moment for someone and completely change the trajectory of their life for the better. The nursing theorist Jean Watson said it best when she said, “Maybe this one moment, with this one person, is the very reason we’re here on Earth at this time.”

Phyllis Prawzinsky, RN. Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital (New York City): I wish new nurses already knew that the efforts they make for the patients today will be long remembered after the specifics of their name or the shape of their face is forgotten. The feeling of being “well cared for” will positively influence their patients’ healthcare decisions in the future; even if they don’t realize it.

I wish new nurses already knew that we learn from both good and bad outcomes. While not every attempt is successful and not every idea is stunning, finding the strength to try new approaches and the confidence to earnestly review your failures is where solutions and cures are born.

Michelle Salva, BSN, RN. Shriners Children’s New England (Springfield, Mass.): Be kind to yourself, take care of yourself as if you are your most important patient, as this will in turn be helpful in your capacity to care for others.

Take care of your co-workers, as the workplace is best when shared with those who “have your back.” You will have the distinct privilege of getting to know and care for many individuals and they will share their most personal aspects with you. Treasure this honor and value your role as one of the most trusted and influential caregivers in the patient experience. 

Stacie Santangelo, MSN, RN. Professor of Nursing at Rasmussen University, Mokena (Ill.) Tinley Park: In nursing school, we are taught to do everything to help the patient, alleviate suffering, and ensure that they are discharged better than when we first started caring for them. We learn the ethics of nursing practice and learn about respecting patients’ autonomy, which is acknowledging that patients have the right to make decisions regarding their care, even when their decisions contradict the clinicians’ recommendations. We learn this intuitively, but clearly, this is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a new nurse.