Starting A Nursing Career During the Pandemic

The first year of your nursing career can be challenging under normal circumstances, but COVID-19 has made this transition even more arduous. According to the Organization of Nurse Leaders, pandemic conditions prevented nursing students from participating in traditional clinical experiences. They instead relied on innovative solutions that were provided in the form of virtual lessons and simulation labs. Potential graduation delays further prohibit much-needed nurses from supporting hospitals that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Schools and government entities developed strategies to help nurses complete their degree and enter the workforce early. For instance, California created an emergency waiver that reduced the required amount of hospital clinical hours to allow nurses to graduate earlier. Similarly, Wisconsin only required 75% of their pre-established clinical hours. This allowed newly graduated nursing students to be able to help on the front lines of the pandemic sooner. 

Newly Graduated Nurses Will Face Unique Challenges

Newly graduated nurses will be starting their careers with little to no clinical experience, creating unique challenges for both the nurse and the hospital organizations for which they’ll work. Resources are available to help, like Nursing Central – Unbound Medicine, which creates comprehensive guides on navigating COVID-19 for student nurses, faculty, and new grads. 

Hospital positions require a facility orientation and a concentrated internship with preceptorship before the RN can work without immediate direct supervision. Graduate nurses will need extensive mentoring and support in a time when preceptors and resources may not be readily available. Experienced nurses are often called upon to precept new graduates, but these highly-skilled nurses are currently deeply entrenched in the pandemic response. 

Suggestions for Smooth Transition for New Graduates During the Pandemic Include:

  • When possible, considerations should be made to orient graduate nurses on non-COVID units to create a less stressful environment that is conducive to basic clinical skills and knowledge

  • Shift orientation to focus on developing practical and assessment skills to help fill in the gaps from missed clinicals.

  • To gain experience and confidence, new nurses should participate in as many aspects of care as possible. 

  • If another nurse has a patient with a condition, intervention, or procedure that you have not yet experienced, offer help, and ask to observe. This will ease anxiety for future instances and make you a much more well-rounded nurse.


The next generation of nurses will begin their career with more knowledge about the risks and challenges of providing patient care than any cohorts before. Aim to interview with hospital systems that provide mentorship programs. These programs serve as an extension of orientation lasting nine months or longer; new nurses are paired with one or two experienced nurses who are willing to take them under their wing and offer support. This equips new nurses with a go-to person for any questions or situations that may arise. New nurses often feel isolated and overwhelmed at the start of their role, but mentorships and nurse community support groups can help provide both clinical and emotional support throughout the transition. 


New graduate support groups should address topics such as:

  • Professional development

  • Clinical skills

  • Mentoring

  • Reflection via storytelling

  • Debriefing

Speak Up for Safety 

It is normal to feel anxious as a new nurse taking on the massive responsibility of caring for others, but the pandemic brings a whole new set of worries. These include potential effects on your patients, the fear of contracting the virus yourself, and the stress of infecting your loved ones. New grads will need to don more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) than ever, which can be a learning curve in itself. It is critical for nurses to advocate for themselves and ensure that they have the proper tools to safely and effectively provide care. 

While the inability to attend hospital clinicals puts student nurses at a disadvantage, most nursing skills are learned on the job and plenty of opportunities will be provided. Be sure to speak up if you are unsure about how to perform something. The patient’s safety always takes precedence, and it is never wrong to ask for help. It takes years for nurses to become completely confident in their assessment and clinical skills and understand all of the nuances of patient care. Nursing school heavily focuses on critical thinking skills, which is a crucial component of the profession. Therefore, you will be well-prepared in that aspect. 


Completing school and moving forward with your career during the most stressful time in nursing history is something to be proud of. Despite safety concerns, the pandemic has reassured many aspiring nurses that this career path is the right one. This important career transition allows you to truly witness the power of nursing as your peers work to protect each other, their patients, and the community. I applaud you for your hard work and am excited to welcome you to the most rewarding job you will ever experience. Be sure to give yourself time to breathe and practice self care. We experienced nurses look forward to working by your side to fight this global pandemic. Congratulations and stay safe! 


Lauren Rivera RNC-NIC, is a certified neonatal intensive care nurse and a certified breastfeeding counselor. 

She is also an expert for a mother/baby telehealth company offering support and educational classes for women 

and their families.


Check Out this Article – New Grad Nurse Tips: How to Safely and Effectively Delegate Tasks