New Grads: Charge Forward!

The years of 2020-2021, or #2020, will go down as among the most memorable years for us all. Many of us have found ourselves in what seems like a crossroads or traffic circle, attempting to navigate a new direction for living and working. So how does one begin a nursing career in the midst of a pandemic? Despite what could be coined “COVID chaos,” I’d like to offer some insights for those beginning their nursing journey.

Reflect on the word charge. What does this mean to you? Imagine you’re an RN who graduated 5 months ago and work on a medical-surgical unit at the local hospital. Arriving for your first day shift of the week, you discover you’re the charge nurse. As you catch your breath, you might recall leadership theoretical principles and reflect on what the role of “charge nurse” means.

Let’s explore four meanings of the word charge. First, to charge or rush in centers around action. This is often the case during times of fear or uncertainty; it can be associated with a battlefield where an individual assumes full responsibility and rushes in, perhaps without consideration for the outcome. It’s an easy posture to assume due to the uncertainty of being a novice nurse, the desire to do well, and the high acuity of nursing.

The second meaning is to take charge or assume sole responsibility for managing. While this may begin with a collaborative mindset, taking responsibility for or managing a unit may drift toward that of individual action: one without collaboration or a collective perspective. As a new graduate, the priority to preserve life may lead you to circumvent collaborative discussions necessary to maintain a positive morale on a unit.

Third, to be charged with knowledge and skill can describe how, having graduated from a school of nursing, you’ll understand the importance of using evidence to guide your critical thinking and decision making. These decisions should benefit everyone--those at the center and those at the margins. How will you give voice to those who do not have a voice?

The final meaning of charge is to refill with energy. This is a way-of-being that comes from the heart and soul of who we are as nurses, and also from our faith. This is attainable through self-reflection, professional development, striving for work-life balance, and most importantly, by letting God be your charge. God is with you in the gentle whisper and in the strong power of the Holy Spirit and he will not abandon you. He’ll give you strength and courage in hard times. I encourage you to slow down, pause, and listen.

Your position as a new graduate will fade, but your resolve to become a nurse of excellence is woven throughout your work as demonstrated in how care for others. Beginning your practice in the context of a pandemic will be confusing, uncertain, and even frightening. Have confidence! You have the skills, faith, and guidance to light your path and energize your compassion for the profession to which you‘ve been called.

Remember: “Trust in the Lord, with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Deborah Gibson, MSN RN, is an assistant professor in the School of Nursing,Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, Canada. Her research interests are community health wellness and building supportive environments for women experiencing perinatal mood disorders.

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