How to Succeed During Your First Year as a CNA
Starting a new job in any field can be daunting. The amount of information you are expected to absorb in the first week alone will set the pace for how quickly you grow and succeed in your new role. For new CNAs, building experience as a healthcare worker comes down time management skills, professional development, and setting yourself up for a long, rewarding career. Below are five important tips to help you get started on the right foot.
Gather Important Work Gear and Supplies
Some gear may be supplied for you by your employer, but some you may need to purchase on your own. Before your first day, make sure you have all the proper wear and supplies that you’ll need. Here’s a good place to start:
- Scrubs – When applying to new positions, be sure to ask if the employer provides a uniform or scrubs, or a stipend. Some facilities will require a certain color uniform per job role.
- Stethoscope – Some employers offer equipment such as stethoscopes to use on-site. However, though sometimes pricey, good stethoscopes are an investment that can last over 10 years.
- Shoes – A comfortable, supportive pair of shoes is a must.
- Report Template – Eventually you will learn what info you need on each patient. But until then, make it easy on yourself and get a pre-printed report template to jot down notes and pertinent info on your patients. Whether you are in long-term care or the hospital, there are a variety of templates available online. Or ask your preceptor what works best for them.
- Other essentials – Don’t forget about basic supplies that you’ll want to make sure you have on hand, such as a pen, sharpie, tape, alcohol wipes, bandage scissors or trauma shears, gloves, chapstick, and hair ties.
Create Professional Development Opportunities
- Find a Mentor – You will be assigned one or two people to orient you and precept you to your new job role. These people should show you the ins and outs of the workplace, teach you policies and procedures, and routines for your shifts. Usually, this orientation will last several weeks until you are expected to function independently. But these people are great resources for questions and issues even while off orientation. Do you have career aspirations beyond being a CNA? Do you want to further your career in nursing? Or perhaps in another healthcare career such as PT, social work, pharmacy, management, or becoming a physician? Make connections with employees in that career to help you set goals to follow that career path.
- Set realistic goals – SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) goals can help you outline areas for personal and professional growth.
- Continuing education – take advantage of available education opportunities offered by your employer to stay current in policy, procedures, and skills.
Develop and Improve Your Time Management Skills
- Cluster tasks – Make lists and try to get supplies all in one trip, instead of running to the supply room every 5 minutes because you forgot something.
- Learn from your peers – What are other colleagues doing to help them move from task to task in an efficient manner?
- Always lend a hand – When you are able, be ready and willing to help your colleagues. This shows you’re a team player who can handle individual tasks as well as other ad hoc tasks that will inevitably come up.
- Balance where you spend your time – Be mindful of patients who like to chat, and find ways to respectfully communicate when you need to move on to other patients.
- Prioritize tasks – Plan to tackle the most important tasks first. Talk to your managers and colleagues if you’re unclear about which tasks are higher priority. If necessary, use a planner to help you schedule your tasks throughout the day until you develop an effective routine.
Be a Team Player
- Attend staff meetings – Ask necessary questions, participate when you can, and show your team that you are engaged.
- Stay professional – Always show up on time (early) and be a dependable employee. Avoid gossip and provide positive and constructive feedback when needed. Stay home if you’re sick to keep others healthy, but provide as much notice as possible so your manager has time to find coverage. It’s OK to plan for a personal or mental health day now and then. But do not call in sick today to go to a friend’s party. Likewise, don’t party all night when you are scheduled for an early morning shift the next day.
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
- Stay hydrated – Keep a closed water bottle close by in the designated location. It is important to stay hydrated. Caffeine may be necessary to start your shift, but be sure to drink water as well.
- Find a lunch buddy – Sometimes it may be hard to find time for breaks or lunch. But a lunch break is legally required! Breaks also give you time to refuel, get hydrated, and take a necessary brain break to help get through the rest of your shift. Your workplace may already have a system in place to ensure that staff get their lunches. If not, use the buddy system and find a trusted staff member to watch your patients while you eat, then swap when you get done.
- Get enough sleep – Make sure to try and get 7-8 hours of sleep. Working night shift for the first time can be challenging to transition to sleeping during the day. Helpful tips include getting blackout curtains, using a fan or white noise machine, and turning off phone notifications.
- Make time for self-care – Healthcare workers constantly give themselves to their patients during their shift. Refill your cup by participating in self-care as much as possible. Connect with friends and family, exercise, eat right, meditate or pray, and keep a positive outlook.