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How to hold space for graduate nurses?

How to Hold Space for Graduate Nurses?

This month I want to talk about graduate nurses and reflect a little on how we hold a space for the younger generation of nurses. I hear a lot in nursing about how the younger generation of nurses don’t seem to have the same coping skills that the older generations had. This is not a view that I share, however, I do think that there are some generational differences when it comes to supporting early-career nurses.

Graduate nurses often talk about the struggle with the transition from a student nurse to an early career nurse. They talk about culture shock and feel like they are not mentally prepared for the reality of ward nursing. They feel overwhelmed and tired and struggle with a heavy workload. The lack of staff and feeling like they don’t know enough are also common themes. So many graduate nurses opt to take a contract with shorter hours as a coping mechanism. This is seen as a way to deal with high patient acuity heavy workload and staff shortages.

Simon Sinek’s Thoughts.

Recently I listened to an audio post from Simon Sinek on LinkedIn. Simon asked the question, “How do we hold space for the younger generation? He observes that today’s younger generation is not equipped to deal with stress and is intimidated by confrontation.

Sinek is not being critical of the younger generation, but simply pointing out that the workplace has changed dramatically over the decades.  He also suggests that many of the younger generations now seek support from the workplace today. Historically this support would have happened outside the workplace via informal networks. This comment was made in relation to the business world, however, I think the same issues exist for graduate nurses who are just starting their careers. The fast ever-changing healthcare environment hasn’t always kept up with what modern support mechanisms early career nurses are seeking. Sometimes there are a lot of unrealistic expectations placed on early-career nurses.

Working without Judgement

I do think that we are too quick to compare and judge the younger generations based on our own experiences. The transition from a student nurse to a graduate is a really difficult line to navigate. Many of the baby boomer generations of nurses might have learnt by the sink or swim method, having been thrown in the deep end and expected to swim. This is very much how I learnt as a student nurse. I think we would all agree that this is not an ideal way to learn as a newly qualified nurse. There is still an old school of thought that considers the sink-or-swim method almost a baptism of fire;  if we had to go through it then so do you as newly qualified nurses. No matter which way you look at this it is never a good way to start your career.

Nursing as a profession has changed over the last few decades. Many of those changes are for the better. What we have always done is not going to cut the mustard any more with today’s graduate nurses who are now more than ever less likely to tolerate a sink-or-swim approach to the start of their nursing career. Many graduate nurses quit early on in their careers and leave because they are disillusioned with the lack of support.

So coming back to Simon Sinek’s question how do we hold space for the younger generation of nurses just starting in their careers?

The Working With Wisdom Initiative

One of the ways that are being considered is based on some research that was carried out over a decade ago. The research aimed to consider how to retain older nurses in the profession for a longer period, providing support to early career nurses whilst offering a flexible approach to working before retirement. The research acknowledged that as a large generation of baby boomers enters retirement there will be a shortage of nurses entering the profession at the same time.

A great initiative that I read about recently is called the ‘Working with Wisdom” initiative in South Australia. This initiative aims to provide support to early-career nurses and midwives in their transition to professional practice. The initiative is based on a clinical practice mentorship model. It matches an experienced nurse or midwife to an early career nurse or Midwife. The clinical mentor provides guidance, facilitation and the development of clinical skills along with the development of critical thinking and reasoning. This support is provided at the point of care and provides real-time clinical support on the floor.

I love the idea of this for several reasons. It utilises the knowledge, skills and experience of older nurses and allows them to share some of this wisdom with the next generation of nurses. It also stops the loss of skills and experience as the generation of baby boomers retire.

Advantages for senior nurses

Many of the senior nurses that I know who are working to support early career nurses get a lot of job satisfaction from sharing their knowledge and wisdom. These kinds of initiatives allow senior nurses to work flexibly and work as many or as few hours as they want to work, which as a retention strategy is a smart move. 

Rather than losing all the wisdom, skills and experience when someone retires from the profession, this approach encourages experienced nursing staff to maintain workplace connections and play a role in supporting the next generation of nurses working.

For graduate nurses, this is a lifesaver.  Being matched with a ‘working with wisdom nurse’ who can support your growth and development of clinical and critical thinking skills at the point of care will make a huge difference to the attrition rates of graduates leaving the profession.

This is a win-win situation for both older and younger generations of nurses.

New Idea

I find it interesting that ‘working with wisdom’ is not a new idea, it has been around for some time. A journal article called  “Wisdom at work: The Importance of the Older and Experienced Nurse in the Workplace”, was published in 2006 as a strategy to retain older nurses in the workplace at the same time as a growing ageing population.

The Department of Health in Victoria, South Australia also published a document in 2021  called ‘Value added the wisdom of older nurses at work’.

It isn’t only the development of clinical and critical thinking skills that the working with wisdom project will support. Working side by side with an experienced nurse is a fantastic way to learn how to manage the stresses of working in the profession and also how to have a difficult conversation and manage conflict within a team.

These two areas are of key importance to graduate nurses and the things that they fear the most. One of the best ways to learn how to have a difficult conversation is to shadow an experienced nurse who has great communication skills to observe how a difficult conversation is handled.

Graduate Nurse Struggles

Many graduate nurses struggle with a lack of confidence and sometimes unrealistic expectations about how long it will take to ‘feel like you know what you are doing’. Even worse is the unrealistic expectation of team members who place a huge amount of pressure on new graduates to learn quickly. Many of their peers are often still junior in terms of the number of years qualified.

It is hard enough making the transition from student to graduate nurse when your training emphasises how things should be done when the reality of working on a busy high acuity ward is very different.

We have to acknowledge that graduate nurses find this transition very difficult and that the old way of sink or swim serves no one anymore. We have to find ways to support and grow graduate nursing skills.

Intergenerational ways of working

Each generation of nurses has something to offer in terms of sharing their wisdom which in turn can help a graduate nurse to grow and develop great clinical and critical thinking skills, learn to prioritise their self-care and feel confident to manage conflict and handle difficult conversations.

It Starts With Empathy

In the post-pandemic world where much has changed, Simon Sinek reminds us all that holding space for the younger generation starts with empathy and recognising the changing face of the workplace.

In a world where healthcare is facing some enormous challenges, we must keep empathy first and foremost at the core of everything we do.  We have a collective responsibility as professionals to support and nurture graduate nurses. This much we owe to the younger generation and the next generation of nurse leaders.

Ways that I can help you

If you are a graduate and would like to know more about how coaching can help you can book a free discovery call here.

You can read here how some of my clients describe how coaching helped them

About the Author

Eva is a Registered Nurse and a professional Coach. She has 41 years of international nursing experience. She has held senior nursing positions in the UK, Qatar, and Perth, Western Australia.

Eva is passionate about two things, making coaching accessible to nurses and helping nurses who are newly- promoted into a leadership position to navigate the often difficult transition from great clinical nurse to a great nurse leader.

Eva is passionate about helping nurses navigate this transition, as often new nurse leaders suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t know what they don’t know.

Eva writes blog posts that speak to new nurse leaders or nurses who are aspiring to become nurse leaders and shares practical wisdom and tool to help them develop their leadership tool box