FAQ: Answers for grad nurses and midwives

Celeste Pinney
Celeste answers frequently asked questions to help nurses and midwives navigate their graduate year.

Gently smiling young nurse

I’ve been working at Nurse & Midwife Support for a few years now, and there are questions that we hear from graduate nurses and midwives all the time. They’re the same questions I hear from the grad midwives I work with in hospitals. Here’s what you need to know about how to navigate your graduate year. 

1. How can I successfully set boundaries?

Boundary setting can feel uncomfortable, especially when you are a new graduate. However, boundaries are an important aspect of self-care. 

Leaving work on time, taking your breaks, and saying no to taking on too many tasks are examples of crucial personal boundaries. 

Recently boundaries specialist Dr Wendy McIntosh joined us to discuss the issue on the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast. Check out the episode and her accompanying blog to learn more about how to assert boundaries in the workplace and why it’s so important: 

The first step to learning to set boundaries effectively: Assess your personal boundaries. Check in with yourself frequently and pay attention to niggling feelings of uncertainty or discomfort, rather than trying to push them down. When you’re anxious or uncomfortable, allow yourself to recognise the source. 

Second: Communicate assertively. Be friendly but firm about what we can and can’t do at work.  For example, if you are very tired and are asked to work overtime, you could say something like: “I would if I could, but I'm unable to help with that right now”. 

Third: Trust your gut instinct and what feels right for you. Remember, it is ok to say no. You are the best judge of your own capacity and whether you feel you can take on a potentially stressful or overwhelming task. 

Boundaries help to keep us safe, reduce the risk of burnout, protect our mental health, help to promote good relationships with others and allow us to take pleasure in our work.  

2. What does assertiveness look like?

Assertiveness means standing up for your personal rights. It is an important interpersonal skill that can be challenging and takes practice to develop well.  

Being assertive means communicating in a clear and honest manner that respects the thoughts and feelings of yourself and others. Communicating assertively helps us to build self-confidence, increase feelings of self-control, reduce conflict, and enhance trusting and collegial relationships at work. 

For example, here’s how you could assertively decline to take on an extra patient when you already are at your full capacity: “I can see it is really busy and I would love to help, but I am at my limit with what I can cope with and don’t feel it would be safe for me to take on another patient.” 

People may not always respond well to our assertive communication, but that doesn’t mean we have done the wrong thing. We can only control our own communication, not the responses of those around us. Being assertive will help maintain your wellness and sustain you in the profession long term. 

3. How do I request holidays with confidence?

Holidays are more likely to be approved if you plan them well in advance. Look to the year ahead and think about when may be a good time to take annual leave. Apply to your manager and keep a copy of your application. If it is rejected, consider having a conversation with your manager and use assertive communication to let them know why it is important to you to take holidays during this time. Taking regular annual leave is vital — consider taking a week or two every three months or so. This helps to avoid burnout and fatigue and will help to increase work satisfaction. 

4. How do I say 'no' to double shifts and overtime?

You are not required to work double shifts and overtime. You are entitled to say no to these requests, and if already tired and overwhelmed, it may be wise to do so. You do not have to provide a reason why you cannot work overtime. Some graduates may feel pressured or obligated to work overtime, especially when the ward is very busy and understaffed. However, we encourage you to put yourself first and prioritise self-care. Working overtime increases the chance of becoming depleted, exhausted, and unable to focus on providing safe patient care. The resulting exhaustion can lead to a crash that requires you to use up your sick leave. 

If you feel pressured to take on unsafe overtime, give us a call to discuss how you can advocate for yourself and what steps are available to you: 1800 667 877

5. How do I successfully manage conflict or bullies?

You will face conflict at various points throughout your career. For some people, conflict can elicit feelings of fear and dread, and a desire to avoid the issue, but conflict is a normal part of relationships of all kinds. Learning to navigate conflict productively is a good life skill to have. 

Employing a collaborative, problem-solving approach is key to effectively working with conflict. In conflict, we can employ active listening, empathy, and assertive communication skills to help work through problems. Viewing conflict as a learning opportunity can help to reframe the issue. Through conflict, we can learn more about others and ourselves, increase self-efficacy, and overcome obstacles. Relationships Australia has an excellent guide for how to address and resolve conflict. Check it out here: Managing Conflict in the Workplace (PDF). 
Bullying goes beyond healthy conflict. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, “everyone has the right to a workplace free from bullying”. 

You may encounter bullying at work, but it can be hard to quantify what separates bullying from normal conflict. We encourage you to learn how Fair Work defines bullying, so you can use the information to empower yourself. Here’s what Fair Work has to say: 

What is bullying?
Bullying happens at work when:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Examples of bullying include:

  • behaving aggressively towards others
  • teasing or playing practical jokes
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
  • excluding someone from work-related events
  • unreasonable work demands.

Learn more at FairWork Australia. 

Knowing the definition of bullying will empower you to take the right steps if you do become the target of bullying. Safe Work Australia offers this resource that will be helpful: Guide for Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying. 

Addressing the behaviour as soon as possible is recommended.  If you feel able to, responding to the bullying behaviour by speaking up and letting the person/s know how you are feeling can be a proactive and effective way to put a stop to bullying behaviour. If you do not feel safe or confident approaching the other person you can seek the support of a manager, human resources department, your health and safety representative or nursing union representative. They will provide you with information about how to address the matter further.  

You can also check out these Nurse & Midwife Support resources:

Nursing and Midwifery Board Australia (NMBA) has a Code of conduct for Nurses and Code of Conduct for Midwives. The NMBA codes apply to all nurses and midwives in Australia, even if your employer also has a code of conduct. The codes describe the responsibility of all nurses and midwives in relation to prevention of bullying and harassment.

6. How am I going to be successful with managing shift work, including night duty?

With some careful planning, you can skilfully manage shift work to ensure health and wellbeing are centre stage. Shift work can be tiring and create challenges for getting good quality sleep. Check out Our tips to thrive in your grad year — here’s a little of what we covered: 

  • Avoid working long stretches of days in a row as this can lead to fatigue and burnout.
  • Make sure you have a day or two off every three to four days.
  • Submit roster requests that reduce the frequency of late/early's.
  • Plan out night duty in advance to suit your personal life. 

Planning your roster isn’t just about your personal comfort — it’s a matter of patient care. A 2022 study showed that healthcare practitioners should not work more than three-night shifts in a row to keep themselves and patients safe.  The same study found that healthcare practitioners need at least two nights of good sleep to recover from two nights of restricted sleep. 

When you finish night duty, try to have at least a few days off before you rotate back to day shifts to give your body a chance to recover and return to its normal circadian rhythm. Good sleep hygiene is important and will support you in working shift work. This can be challenging when your shift times are changing frequently. 

Sleep is such an important topic for healthcare workers, we did a whole newsletter about it: Shift work and sleep. Check it out for more tips and resources. 

You can do this!

This can be a nerve-wracking and stressful time, but we know you can do it and we’re excited about what your future holds. Enjoy your graduate year! 

If you need to chat, we’re here for you: 24/7, anonymous, confidential and free. Call 1800 667 877 or email us


Banner: Apply now for the mentor program

About Celeste Pinney

Celeste is a registered midwife who has worked in the profession for ten years across many areas of midwifery including birthing, postnatal, antenatal and fertility. Celeste still works clinically as a midwife and also works as a senior clinician for the Nurse and Midwife Health Program of Victoria. Celeste is passionate about providing support to nurses and midwives in need. Celeste has a strong interest in health specifically relating to sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress. Celeste sings in a women’s community choir and loves weight lifting, being out in nature, dancing and Japanese food.