7 Ways to Lower First Day Stress

Posted on: August 19, 2021

written by

Teresa Otto, MD

Your first day at a new assignment is stressful, particularly in today’s work environment. Whether you're a seasoned locum tenens healthcare provider or just starting your career with Barton Associates, employing these seven strategies will ease your first day stress at a new assignment.

Plan your route and plan to arrive early. Drive by the hospital or clinic the day before your assignment starts. Using GPS may be seamless, but sometimes a one-way street or road construction will delay your travels. You’ll be able to get a time estimate on Google Maps (put in the day and time you need to arrive and it will give you your departure time).

Ask your liaison in advance where to meet and which door you should use. Make a note of which parking lots are used by hospital staff. Add a time buffer in. Rushing to make it on time or being late the first day are stressful and unprofessional.

Get plenty of rest the night before. We’re supposed to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, every night. We all know that doesn’t happen often, but on the eve of your first day at a new assignment, make getting a full night’s sleep a priority.

Sleep deprivation impairs memory, decision-making, reasoning, and critical thinking – all the things you need to take the best care of patients. If you are a healthcare practitioner with on-call responsibilities or shift work that occurs at night, you’ll experience enough sleep deprivation. Don’t start your new assignment with a sleep deficit.

Ask questions and take notes. The first day is a whirlwind of meeting new people, making sure you’ve got the PPE you need, learning a new computer system, remembering the new passwords you’ve created to get into the new computer system, and navigating a new facility.

As you meet with the information/technology people, the head of the department, and your future colleagues, write down their contact information. Jot down who to contact if you need help.

Ask questions about the patient population as well as how patient histories, lab work, and tests are accessed.

Come prepared to work. Bring your stethoscope, your operating room-dedicated shoes, your lucky pen - whatever you’ve come to rely upon to make your day run smoothly.

Feed your body, feed your brain. The first day of a new assignment can be very hectic. If you begin caring for patients the first day after a brief orientation, everything is likely to take you a little longer – from looking for test results to documenting the visits to sending prescriptions to pharmacies you’re not familiar with.

You may not have time for a trip to the cafeteria. Packing a protein bar, almonds, berries, or string cheese can keep you from getting overly hungry/hangry.

Visualize your performance. Olympians utilize this technique to improve their performances. Apolo Ohno, Olympic short track speed skater, visualized his perfect race – 500 meters in less than 40 seconds – and that’s exactly how it played out. His gold medal proves it!

Healthcare practitioners can utilize visualization, too. And it’s not just for proceduralists. Whether you’re visualizing the patient interview and exam or the insertion of a central line, you’re having a dress rehearsal. Even though you’re in a new environment, the steps you take to care for the patient are the same and transcend the location.

Take four deep breaths. If you still have a case of the nerves, it’s time to practice mindful breathing. Box, square, tactical or four-part breathing, as it’s also called, works by activating the autonomic nervous system. Exhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, inhale for four seconds, and hold your breath for four seconds.

Dr. Andrew Weil’s technique is also simple. Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds.

Either way, deeply breathe through several sets as needed when stress mounts or consistently practice the technique several times daily. Your anxiety, stress, and blood pressure will be lower as a result.

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About Teresa Otto, MD

Teresa Otto, MD, is an anesthesiologist who has traveled extensively as a military physician and more recently as a locum tenens anesthesia provider. Her travels have taken her to 44 states and 50 countries and all 7 continents.

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