Congrats to everyone who graduated and is starting a new job soon!

When starting your first nursing job there are so many questions, and one of those is “what gear do I need to succeed?” When I started in ICU, I totally “geared up” and felt so much more confident knowing I had the tools I needed at my disposal. So, if you’re starting a new job soon, this list is for you! Please note that this post contains some affiliate links. By using these links to shop on Amazon, this website earns a small commission which helps keep the lights on. So thanks in advance and happy shopping!

Reference books you’ll use your entire career

Which reference books you utilize will vary based on where you are working, but in general try to look for something that’s portable so you can easily have it with you while in the clinical setting.  It is nice to have a solid reference book at home, but for on-the-fly referencing, I like these:

Kathy White’s books are fantastic! I have the “Fast Facts for Critical Care” edition, but she also has references for pediatric nurses, trauma nurses and more! Definitely get one of these as they are packed with information AND totally portable! Get yours here!

Critical Care Nursing Secrets is one I tell all my new orientees to get asap! It is a definite go-to for anyone working in the ICU. Handbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing is a fantastic reference for any nurse working with adult med/surg patients. I love this one, too! #ad

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For home reference, I love this book “Critical Care Nursing” but it’s a giant text that I use to look things up on my days off. Check it out here: Critical Care Nursing: Diagnosis and Management #ad

Tools of the Trade

Goggles: Protecting yourself is so important and your eyes are definitely a part of that. Wearing goggles anytime you are at risk for being “sprayed” with body fluids is just plain smart. Your workplace may provide goggles, but I found that I could barely see through them, so opted for these from 3M. They’re lightweight, kinda stylish, anti-fog, crystal clear AND cheap! Sold!
3M Anti-Fog Safety Glasses, Silver/Black Frame, Clear Lens #ad

Stethoscope: Maybe you limped along in nursing school with an inexpensive stethoscope, but now that you’re working it’s time to invest in a good quality scope. I use my trust Littmann Master Classic II, (#ad) but if I worked in a specialty area like cardiology, I’d definitely want a cardiology-steth (#ad). If you’re working with babies (#ad), you’ll want a stethoscope for those tiny little baby heart sounds. Some co-workers of mine swear by the electronic ones…they are very expensive, so if you go this route, you’ll want to keep an eye on it. Stethoscopes have a habit of growing legs and walking out of the unit…so get yours engraved and get a distinctive color if you can. #ad

Badge reel: While you don’t necessarily NEED a badge reel (the hospital will likely provide you with one when they issue your badge), it is nice to get one with a really strong cord because, if you’re like me, you have a fair amount of stuff on your badge and the weight of it really pulls. If you just want a cute one, then check out Badge Blooms…not super heavy duty, but they make up for it with adorable-ness.

Mini Sharpie: I probably use these little baby Sharpies more than anything else…seriously! I love that they’re portable and that they attach to my badge. I use them to label my lines, time/date things that I open, time/date dressings, etc… There are so many uses for them, I would seriously feel a little lost without it! Sadly I don’t see them out in retail stores that often (I think I got mine at Ace Hardware once), but they are available online. Buy a pack and you’ll be good to go for awhile! #ad

Badge reference cards: Speaking of things that go on your badge, I love these badge reference cards. The whole pack comes with a lot of cards covering a variety of information. And even though I’ve got a pretty heavy-duty badge reel, it wasn’t hardcore enough to hold all of them. So, I pulled out the things I use the most and am good to go! 

One of the things I use the most is a little reference card I made with my unit’s most frequently called numbers…mainly the docs we call the most often. This is HUGELY helpful, especially when seconds count.

Hemostats & Scissors: These tools are the ones I reach for the most, and it always surprises me when another nurse has to borrow mine…how on earth do you do your job without them? I use hemostats to grip hard-to-twist IV tubing, remove fentanyl bags from the spike (for some reason it’s really sticky), clamping off things that need to be clamped (be sure to place some gauze if you dont’ want the hemostat’s teeth to cut into whatever it is you’re clamping)…seriousy, the uses are endless! As for the scissors, I use them all the time to open IV bag packaging, cut adhesive for dressings and to cut strips of tape so I can label all my lines. #ad

Clipboard: With bedside report being one of those things that hospitals around the country are really trying to commit to, having a firm writing surface is super helpful. Don’t bother with those cheap white ones with the medical facts plastered all over it. The clips are worthless and won’t last more than a few uses. I use a heavy acrylic one with my name on it, but this one looks like it would do just fine. #ad

Pens: Nurses are addicted to good pens! Ask a nurse what their favorite pen is and they will definitely be able to tell you a specific brand, color and point size. I am currently loving these!#ad

Brain sheets: Effective patient hand-off starts and ends with a solid brain sheet. I created these for the ICU, but also have a version for telemetry. If your unit doesn’t provide you with a brain sheet (they may also call it a report sheet) feel free to use these or, even better, make your own customized sheet specific to the most important information you need to know about your patients.

Work bag: Most likely you will want a work bag to schlep all  your stuff around in. This can be a backpack, a tote bag or a handy messenger bag like this one from TimBukTu (and my personal favorite). Get something you can easily wipe off or throw in the wash.

Compression socks: The difference I felt after ONE DAY of wearing compression socks was astronomical. I used to come home from work with feet and legs absolutely aching. Not anymore! Of course, I’m tired after a 12-hr shift, but I definitely don’t ache like I used to. I love these from Sockwells. They’re expensive, so I have three pair that I wash every week and they are holding up just fine after more than a year. Worth every penny. Of course, they make ’em for the men, too! #ad

Eat, drink and be a merry nurse!

Water bottle with lid: One of the things that will exhaust you the most is simple dehydration. If your unit is like mine and far far away from the break room, you’ll want to have a water bottle close by so you can stay hydrated throughout the day. Be sure to get one with a lid and comply with OSHA standards as indicated on your unit. Some units only allow water in certain areas, and it will always specify that the container needs a lid. I love these big Nalgene bottles because they are giant and BPA free. And, they come with the little splash-guard thing so you don’t dribble water all over yourself. #ad

Lunch bag: Your lunch breaks are short and sometimes non-existent. Don’t waste time standing in line in the cafeteria where the food probably isn’t that good for you anyway. Invest in a good lunch bag and bring a nutritious, energizing lunch as well as a few snacks.

Go-to snacks that don’t require refrigeration: Speaking of snacks, there are going to be days when you don’t get a break when you need it, so I always advice bringing some nutritious snacks that you can stash in your bag. My favorite go-to snacks for me are nuts, dried mango, Lara Bars, apples and these amazing broad bean snacks that are absolutely addicting! I seriously have to portion them out, otherwise I’d munch through the whole bag. #ad

If you’re working night shift, you might want to consider these:

Blackout curtains: Sleeping during the day can be very difficult for people. Getting a really good set of blackout curtains was crucial for my day-sleeping strategy. #ad

Blue light goggles: These goggles block out blue light which is supposed to help you sleep during the day. For tips on using blue light goggles as a night-shifter, check this out. I didn’t have these when I was struggling on nights, but definitely wish I had! Maybe it would have made things easier for me since my biggest issue with night shift was sleeping during the day. It’s not as easy as it looks 😉 #ad

A solid routine: Figuring out the best sleep/wake routine is going to take some trial and error on your part. Some people work all their shifts in a row so they can flip their schedule and be somewhat “normal” on their days off. Others stick to a straight night shift routine, but this can make a social life difficult. My routine was to work my shifts all in a row and then on my days off, I’d stay up until about midnight or one o’clock and sleep in until about 9 or 10 (yes, I needed a lot of sleep after only getting about 4 hours of sleep during my work week each day!) Find what works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment. If you can get a solid routine down, it will go a long way toward making your night shift experience enjoyable. For more about surviving night shift, check out this post here.


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I hope that helps you start your new job off on the right note. Do you have a go-to resource, tool or tip? Share it in the comments below!