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How to advocate for yourself as a new nurse

As a new grad it’s hard enough to learn new skills and figure out how to be a nurse right out of school. One thing I wish they taught us in school is how to advocate for ourselves. This skill will save you from burnout and help you navigate potentially toxic jobs before things get bad.

What situations do we need to advocate for ourselves?

With our coworkers.

Advocating for ourselves with our coworkers may look like asking for help when we need it. This could be that you are busy in the morning, but you patient needs to be changed or turned. Being able to ask for help will make you day go much smoother.

It may also look like getting your work done and taking care of your patients BEFORE offering help to anyone else. This looks like seeing all your patients and getting your tasks done before asking if anyone else needs help. Setting yourself up at the beginning of your shift for success can save you from rushing around later.

It could also look like setting boundaries and saying no to cover that shift you don’t want to cover. When someone asks you if you can cover their Friday night shift and you have plans, its okay to say no. This doesn't make you a bad teammate or coworker, it makes you a nurse with boundaries.

With our management.

Management is probably the hardest because many of us identify as people pleasers and we want people to like us, our managers included (especially if they do our evaluations). Advocating for yourself could look like saying no to staying over when the unit is short, or saying no to that overtime shift they love to guilt trip us into. It could also look like asking for help when we need it or standing firm in our convictions when something happens at work.

It could also look like standing up for yourself if you feel like you aren’t being treated well or fairly. One example of this is always getting certain patient assignments or feeling like a charge nurse is not giving you patients that you feel you are ready for. The "eat your young" mentality is a thing of the past and we are here to create better work environments for ourselves and future nurses. Speak up when something doesn't feel right.

With our patients.

Patients deserve us at our best selves, because if we don’t take care of the US how can we take care of them? This can look like setting clear boundaries when you feel uncomfortable. Patients do not have the right to harm us in any way and speak to us unkindly. Learning how to respectfully state that you are uncomfortable and that their behavior is uncalled for is important. For example, if a patient starts getting physical or violent towards you, know that its okay to say that is not acceptable behavior in the hospital. Once you have set that boundary and the patient is safe, know who you can call for backup and help or leave to remove yourself.

Advocating for ourselves as nurses not only helps promote longevity in the career and job satisfaction, it also makes us better nurses for our patients. When we say yes to everything, that means we are saying no to other things that may be important to us. Like when we say yes to that overtime shift, but we really wanted to spend our day off with our friends and family. The more we break our boundaries, the more burnt out we become. You are in charge of your nursing career and the experiences you have. Advocating for yourself can be the best thing you can do for your nursing career.

Closing Points:

1. Set clear boundaries with your coworkers and patients

2. Learn how to say NO

3. Ask for help!

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