The Clinical Educator’s Important Role in Mental Support for New Nurses

By Ashley Reil BSN, RNC-NIC

The transition from a “student nurse” to a “new-to-practice” nurse can be a challenging and overwhelming experience, often including relocation, increased personal responsibility, a new schedule of night, weekend, and rotating shifts, and just generally finding one’s “fit” among others who are more established. These factors alone can cause anxiety and depression, and negatively impact one’s health and wellbeing. And that’s without even taking the global pandemic into consideration!

As nursing leaders, Clinical Educators often find themselves acting as the sounding board for new nurses’ questions, ideas, concerns, and frustrations. For this reason, it is imperative that we as educators establish a trusting relationship with them to provide a safe space and act as a helpful resource as they embark on their career. It’s important to have regular check-ins with new nurses to reassure them there is someone in their corner rooting for them and pushing for their success. It is our responsibility to present resources available, whether that be an employee assistance program, a mental health professional, or another outlet that will meet their unique needs. Above all, new nurses need to know that it’s ok to feel the way they do, while also understanding that they are not the first (and certainly won’t be the last) to experience these feelings. Remind them: they are not alone.

It is vital that new nurses remember to practice self-care. Caring for others can be overwhelming, which makes it very easy to forget to care for yourself. Burnout is a very serious problem in the nursing profession. Prevention is key. Educators can remind their nurses to take breaks when needed, to vent, socialize, and take care of yourself outside of work because if you aren’t caring for yourself you will not be able to care for your patients. As Clinical Educators, we can do our part by ensuring that nurses remember to partake in activities that make them feel happy, relaxed, and fulfilled.

Personally, I love the Clinical Educator role not only for the knowledge I provide and the growth I get to witness, but for the alliance I am able to establish with other nurses. In the NICU, I find it important to be physically and mentally present to offer support and act as a resource, but also to survey the environment, as well as my nurses’ interactions and day-to-day tasks. This groundwork allows me to understand specific concerns and frustrations so that I can better advocate for the clinical nurses. New nurses do not always know how or when to advocate for their patients or for themselves. Providing them with the guidance and tools to do so is vital, as these tools are the building blocks that will help them to establish and maintain a strong nursing career moving forward.

As Clinical Educators, we have a unique opportunity to support new nurses not only clinically, but emotionally and mentally in the first few months of their careers and beyond. It’s a tough job, but it can be incredibly rewarding to watch these nurses identify and achieve their goals. Our guidance can help them gain the confidence necessary to be a successful nurse. And most importantly, a happy nurse.

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