Orienting New Staff: Fun, or a Necessary Evil?

While you may be a very experienced nurse, I'm sure you don't know exactly how your new unit is run.

Do you like giving new nurses orientation? Is it something you avoid like the plague?

I did both — I liked it and I hated it. I really liked it when I was assigned a nurse who really wanted to learn and was full of questions. Nurses with initiative who seemed happy that you were there to help made orienting fun. Unfortunately, it’s the others that make orienting not much fun at all.

If you’re new to a unit, the quickest way to turn off the person who has been assigned to orient you is to constantly say, “where I used to work….(insert better way of doing things).” If you say it often enough, it’s almost guaranteed that your new colleague will be wondering why on earth you left that nirvana. And your new colleagues will hear all about it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make suggestions on how things may be better—goodness knows, most places can do with a little shaking up. New blood on a unit is great most of the time. New people do bring new ideas and a breath of fresh air. But the worst time to do it is when you’re just learning the ropes.

The next worst thing you can do? Know everything. I’ve tried orienting nurses who answered “I know” to everything I tried to explain. Now, while you may be a very experienced nurse, I’m sure you don’t know exactly how your new unit is run and I’m positive that there are things that you don’t know. But, what’s worse, is that often it’s a newer nurse who does that. He thinks that he knows all he needs to know and just wants you to show him where things are. The problem is, often we find out later that the new nurse didn’t know these things and was trying to figure them out on his own, perhaps at the patients’ expense.

This isn’t to say that if there are problems during orientation, it’s always the new nurse’s fault. In fact, there’s a good chance that it’s the orienting nurse who is causing problems. First of all, not all nurses are good at orienting new staff. They either don’t have the patience for teaching and answering questions, or they just don’t like to do it. It’s not fair for new nurses to be assigned to an unwilling or incapable orientation team.

What’s a great way to turn off new nurses to your unit? Ignore them — that’s a good one. I’ve seen new nurses not able to find their partner as she went off to do things on their own. And what are some other ways?

  • Discourage questions — grunt, answer in short, limited sentences, or don’t give them a chance to ask questions to begin with.
  • Don’t explain anything — assume that the new nurse knows everything and don’t explain why and how you’re doing something.
  • Speak to your coworkers as if your new nurse isn’t there — talk around him or even about him.
  • Previous experience — make sure that the new nurse knows that none of her previous experience matters

Does this all sound extreme? I wish it were. The problem is, I’ve seen it happen and it breaks my heart. It’s not easy to be the new kid on the block anywhere, let alone in a professional working environment where team work is the most important thing.

As the nursing shortage becomes even more critical, we need to be sure that we welcome those who choose to join us. We’re only shooting ourselves in the foot if we don’t.

What do you think? Do you have tips for better orientations?