The new kids on the unit

National Nurses Week: "Rookies" share first-year stories

It’s your first day at your new job. You feel the jitters, the excitement and maybe a bit of anxiety. For our 223 UF Health Shands Nursing first-year “rookies,” their initial days on the unit are a combination of these emotions and more: The desire to profoundly impact our patients and provide them with the highest quality care.

“Early in my career as a nurse, I realized how important my role was to the health care team, but it wasn’t until later in my career that I realized the extent to which nurses influence patient outcomes,” said Irene Alexaitis, D.N.P., R.N., NEA-BC, UF Health Shands Hospital chief nursing officer and Nursing and Patient Care Services vice president. “Research has emerged demonstrating just how much influence nursing has on preventing negative outcomes. Together with physicians and other health care team members, nurses work hard every day to provide excellent care and optimize the health of our patients.”

In celebration of National Nurses Week, May 4-8, we spoke to five outstanding first-year nurses. They shared some thoughts about why they chose UF Health and what makes their profession one that not only impacts patients, but also impacts their own lives.

Why did you choose UF Health?

Chris Benson: My mother worked here years ago in a lab, and she rode her bicycle. I could also ride my bicycle to work, which was huge in my decision to apply to UF Health. I thought it would be a nice way to honor her. I’ve always thought highly of UF Health and its advancement of health care.

Hailey Haas: As a student in UF Health rotations, I was floored by how precise the nurses were and the supportive, team work ethic each nurse displayed. I knew UF Health would motivate me to be the best that I could be.

André Hook: UF Health brings excitement, innovation and clinical excellence to the forefront. By taking advantage of the opportunities UF Health has to offer, I’m establishing an incredible platform for what I hope to be a successful, fulfilling career.

Brittany Lewis: Working for UF Health was my ultimate goal as a new graduate nurse. It’s one of the best health care systems in Florida, providing high-quality care while cultivating an optimal learning environment for beginning nurses.

Hunter Shepherd: I wanted to work at a Magnet-designated hospital that was also a tertiary care center, as well as an active learning environment.

What is your fondest memory as a first-year nurse?

HS: There was a patient on the unit who was diagnosed with a malignant cancer and experienced multiple complications from her treatments. She was engaged prior to her hospitalization with plans to marry, but unfortunately her prognosis grew worse. The UF Health Shands Hospital MICU staff, along with her family and friends, gave her a wedding while she was at the hospital. I will never forget her face on her wedding day as the nurses and her mother prepared her to be wheeled down the aisle. On that day it was apparent she was a bride — not a patient.

What has surprised you most about being a nurse?

BL: The importance of communication throughout the health care system. Making the time to effectively communicate with other health care team members makes a huge difference in the level of care provided to our patients.

What is your favorite part of your job?

AH: The environment around me. I’m surrounded by brilliant, insightful and supportive staff members who are an absolute pleasure to work with. Without them, my first year could have been much more difficult.

In five words or fewer, describe your job.

CB: Strive to improve patient wellness.

What advice do you have for the next wave of first-year nurses?

HH: Keep going! You will learn something new at work every day that will apply to another patient in the future and make that situation more comfortable to handle. Some days will be stressful, yet the most trying of shifts will help you grow as a person. The ability to make a positive difference in patients’ and co-workers’ lives will always outweigh the temporary strain of unfamiliar situations and hectic days.

Visit the UF Health Bridge to see a video featuring these nurses and to hear more of their thoughts about being a first-year nurse.


Hunter Shepherd, RN

Hunter Shepherd, R.N. – UF Health Shands Hospital Medical ICU 11-4


Brittany Lewis, R.N. – UF Health Shands Hospital Medicine Unit 75

André Hook, BSN, RN

André Hook, B.S.N., R.N. – UF Health Shands Hospital Cardiac ICU 25


Chris Benson, R.N. – UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital Orthopaedics Unit 6 West


Hailey Haas, R.N. – UF Health Shands Hospital Cardiac ICU Unit 25