After my own personal experiences and seeing how befuddled recent graduates are about application processes, I feel it necessary to try to help out by providing a brief overview of the Futures program that SSM puts its new nurses through for training and orientation. I've seen a few scattered comments around the board already, but some of them are outdated, and most lack details or any chronological flow, so I'm taking a proverbial stab at it...
I don't expect everyone to agree with this, and I welcome different perspectives from folks whose journey has taken a different direction, whether to the same end or not. But I'm not getting into arguments about whose school is better, whose hospital is better, or whether or not ADN RNs have a lower intelligence quotient or some other insulting claim. (I am an ADN, and it was an excellent education. I know what to compare it to because that wasn't my first degree. I have a bachelor's degree from a very good university here in Missouri that most folks didn't have the grades to get into. So let's not go there. You can get an excellent education from a community college, and most of the people spearheading the screaming match on that issue haven't attended both.)
First of all, there's no shortage of nurses right now. There's a surplus, and employers are being "choosy" because they can (and ought to). No matter where you apply, there are a few basic things you can do to make yourself a more ideal job candidate.
1.) Get into a BSN program, not an ADN or diploma/certificate program - especially considering future legislation threatening to make ADN-educated nurses extinct along with LPNs. (Sanford-Brown, University of Phoenix, and various "certificate" programs are to be avoided. It looks bad to employers for good reason!)
2.) Get a job as a CNA / patient care tech so that you will eventually be walking into an RN job with at least an introduction to the clinical environment.
3.) During your education, keep an eye out for student nurse internships and grab the experience, whether they pay you for it or not!
4.) Keep your grades up! You don't have to have straight A's to be an excellent nurse, and a skewed grading scale certainly doesn't make it easy, but "C's get degrees" shouldn't be your motto. You may get your degree, but you may have a heck of a time impressing employers with your GPA.
If you end up having your nursing school preceptorship
at an SSM facility, and SSM is a company you might like to work for, then make the ABSOLUTE MOST of the preceptorship and treat it like a job interview!! No, you won't be offered a job out of the blue, but the opportunity to present yourself as an excellent job candidate is right in your lap! Don't waste it.
APPLICATION AND INTERVIEW PROCESS:
What I can tell you of the SSM Futures program and the application process are based on my experiences. I don't have "insider info" to provide you, your experiences may be different, and the program will almost certainly change over time. (The best example of that is that the Futures program used to be 12 weeks long. With input from people put through the program, it was reduced to 6 weeks. I had an HR person erroneously tell me that the program was 12 weeks long.)
The Futures program takes place twice each year, starting in June and then again in September. (No, it's not true that the cool kids are taken in the June group, nor that the "good" jobs are all taken by the June group. Pure baloney!) If you are in your last semester of your nursing program, apply then! Do not wait until after graduation! So if you are due to graduate in May 2012, you should apply with SSM soon. They will start look at applications in January (for the June group), and then again in May (for the September group).
Thousands will apply, a few hundred will have interviews, and roughly 75-100 will be accepted into the program each time!!
Because, like most people, I was unfamiliar with the process of applying, I missed the deadline for the first group of the year and had to re-apply later on in May, after I graduated. I heard nothing until I received an email on June 30th with a link to sign up online for a phone interview in early July. After the phone interview, I received an email with details on the next step. Prior to being invited for an in-person interview, you have to submit an essay describing a situation in which you provided care that exemplified the exceptional care SSM provides its patients and visitors. You must also have at least 2 faculty members submit references for you. (SSM provides the form as an electronic document. The faculty members have to fill it out on the computer and email it back.) At the end of July, after passing the phone interview and submitting the required items, I was invited for an in-person interview in early August. By the middle of August, I was called and offered a job!
As far as the interview process is concerned, there's no trick to it. I highly recommend that you look around online at the questions that NEW nurses all over the country have been asked in interviews. The ones that MOST people have encountered are likely to be among those you will be asked, but there will be others. Practice your answers, prepare yourself, and be confident. There are no tricks or easy answers. If you are ever asked something wild like what the half-life of a particular drug is, don't get frazzled because you don't know the answer. Just identify a resource (other than a coworker) where you could find the information in the clinical environment. (No, I was never asked this question in an interview.) My phone interviewer DID ask me what my GPA was, whether I'd had any previous clinical experience (such a working as a tech), etc. You will be asked what "exceptional care" is to you, and to provide examples. MOST hospitals ask such questions. It's somewhat elementary. You should have some idea of how you would answer before being asked in the interview. I was never asked to outline the history of SSM, state the date it was founded, etc. (SSM is a faith-based Catholic organization, so you should at least know that much before now.)
There's no tricks to the interview process, but I do have the usual tips that everyone offers. Be friendly, smile, be yourself! Don't ask about money, vacation time, or benefits! (When they offer you a job, they'll tell you what the pay rates are. They're comparable to the other hospitals and companies in the St. Louis area, especially for NEW nurses.) Don't hound HR on the phone, asking about the status of your application and the consideration process! Understand in advance that you may not be placed exactly where you want to be for the rest of your career, and then demonstrate legitimate willingness to work any unit or SHIFT that you will be offered. ANY opportunity is better than NO opportunity!
If you are offered a job and you accept it, I highly recommend that you look into purchasing your scrub uniforms immediately. In my experience, with the program only being 6 weeks, "clinicals" (actual unit shift work) begin during the 2nd week. Although SSM was understanding and allowed us to wear virtually any generic scrubs until we could get the embroidered SSM scrubs, you don't want to be the ugly duckling in your old school scrubs (with the patches ripped off) for weeks until you can get your uniform. And, if at all, you will want to avoid wasting money on matching blue scrubs WITHOUT the embroidery that must be embroidered later on. Just get your scrubs in advance. At least 1 set.
Life Uniform is no longer the official embroiderer of the SSM scrubs. Now it's MPG...
They can take several weeks to complete your order, which is why I advise you to get 1 scrub set as soon as possible after being accepted. Prices are comparable to other stores around the city, and in some cases, they're cheaper. Visit a scrub shop to get an idea of exactly what size you will need in the brands offered by MPG, then order from MPG. Don't guess.
THE FUTURES PROGRAM:
Like I said, the Futures program is 6 weeks long. It will take place at multiple SSM locations around the city, depending on what you're doing that day and where they intend to place you for "clinicals." You are scheduled for 40 hours/week Monday through Friday with weekends off, but many days, we were let out a little bit early. (Yes, we were paid our hourly rate for the time spent in training. Some weeks, the 40 hours are packed into 4 days, with a 3-day weekend.) It's a combination of training and orientation that is ideal for the new nurse! Initially, there is some introductory information, such as the history of the company. Some of it is somewhat classroom-style with PowerPoint presentations and educators, and some of it is hands-on return-demonstration skills validation. My Futures group had 2 days of training on documentation using Epic. (Almost all of us had prior experience with it, either through work or school, so the days were 4 hours instead of 8.) The EKG course is 3 days, with review and your exam on the 4th day. You will also be put through some assessment exams (the "PBDS"), including one that presents you with patient scenarios (on the computer) and asks you to identify the patient's problem or diagnosis, identify appropriate interventions, and if necessary, anticipate specific orders received from a physician. It's not an easy experience, but certainly vital to the company's understanding - and yours - of where your developmental needs are. Your Futures leader will review the results with you. The majority of people will need to be reassessed a few months later, unfortunately. (I'm not sure if anyone "passes" this ordeal. But you won't be fired for having developmental needs identified. It's all about providing safe care!) Just don't freak out.
Nurses at DePaul Health Center draw their own blood, so if you are placed there, you will take a phlebotomy course as well.
So what's the deal with these "clinicals" I speak of? Your days of classroom-style learning will be mixed in with 8- and 12-hour shifts working 1-on-1 with a nurse on your orientation floor (which may not be your final assignment). You'll be there with the other few Futures nurses and your clinical coach. You work with a nurse for the day, learning the floor and progressively taking on more and more of the care. (As you gain confidence in yourself, you WILL have to BE confident in POLITELY asserting your desire to take on the care for some or all of that nurse's patients for the shift. Nurses are not good at sitting around and may be reluctant to give you the freedom that you WILL ultimately need to sort out your own organizational style.) There is clinical paperwork involved in all of this. And you will be assessed (on paper) on a weekly basis, sometimes 1:1 with your clinical coach, discussing your development.
During the interview and application process, you WILL have the opportunity to identify a desired shift, unit, or hospital. If you want med/surg, you will certainly get it. If you want ER/ICU, there are limited openings and you may end up in med/surg. If you want L&D/OB/NICU, well, I'm not sure. Those folks seemed to end up in med/surg until they could get into those other units. What ended up happening for MOST of us was that our desires were taken into consideration, but we were placed according to where the need actually was. That's life! And don't kid yourself about getting day shifts. This is the reality of being a nurse, and right now, it's a miracle just to get a job at all. (Don't spoil it with complaints. You'll survive the overnight shift in a unit you didn't prefer long enough to get day shift in a unit you do prefer.)
During your clinicals, you will either be offered a job by your team leader on the unit or you will be presented with the opportunity to be interviewed for it. Med/surg folks seemed to be offered jobs outright. ICU/ER had to interview, it seems, especially with limited openings.
POST-FUTURES ORIENTATION PERIOD:
After the Futures program (and clinicals) have wrapped up, you still have an orientation period for roughly 3-4 additional weeks. By this point, you're in your final assignment (shift, unit). Your clinical coach is out of the picture by now, but your Futures leader will still follow up with you, and you will need to turn some paperwork in to your Futures leader. (Limited paperwork. It's no big deal. Don't sweat it.) You will be assigned to 1 or 2 nurses during your orientation, but if they are called off, you'll work with whomever your charge nurse (CSN) assigns you to. Some people do well by learning a little bit from each of a few different nurses. Other people work best by spending the orientation period with just 1 nurse. Don't be afraid to let your learning needs be known. (Some nurses are good at orienting new folks, and others can't do it at all. If it's your first shift with a particular nurse, you will have to be very clear with them about where you are in your development and how much of the full patient load you can take on by yourself.)
As you learn from the other nurses who will be your coworkers, be confident in what you know but be clear about what you don't know. Straight A's don't mean you know everything, and if you think it does, it only means that you're arrogant and naive. And being an ADN-educated RN doesn't mean that you're any less prepared than anyone else to provide exceptional care safely.
Don't be surprised if your employee badge provided during the Futures program says GN (not RN) on it. There are many more GNs in the June group than the September group. After the orientation period, you can get your badge changed so that it says RN. Until then, don't worry about it and don't run down to HR and get indignant about it. Most patients won't ask what "GN" means. If you are courteous and confident, patients won't question your experience level.
WHO WILL BE IN MY FUTURES GROUP?
I saved this until the end, too... Your fellow Futures nurses will be a diverse lot, to be sure! While some hospitals in the area are supposedly not hiring any ADNs (when they may just be limiting how many they hire but are absolutely still hiring some), SSM is looking for RNs (ADN or BSN) who are confident in their ability to provide exceptional care to patients. Very few people in my group of roughly 75 were previous/current employees (patient care techs). ADNs and BSNs were split. Everyone came from a wide variety of schools in both Missouri and Illinois, with a few from out of State. There was no obvious preference for a specific degree, a particular school (especially since SSM isn't affiliated with any of them), or previous clinical experience. MANY of us had no prior clinical experience. And as I just said, the vast majority of us were not previous SSM patient care techs or anything like that. This isn't Willy Wonka's chocolate factory; there's no Golden Ticket that automatically wins you entry into the company.
In closing, I want to make some comments that I'm sure will be ultra-sensitive. SSM is a faith-based Catholic organization. The company has a very interesting and rich history rooted in the efforts of 5 nuns who came to the US from Germany in the 1800s to heed the call and care for the sick. YOU do not have to be Catholic to work for SSM or to be a patient. You can believe anything you want, as long as you're willing to provide exceptional care and support the beliefs of the patients you care for.
There's a lot of baloney trash-talk about other hospitals and companies regarding abortions, prescribing of birth control pills, and overall committment to the Call of Christ, etc. etc. etc. I'm skeptical about what I've heard in this regard because the people I hear it from are generally a little off-color to begin with.
For reasons religious or legal, the company you end up working for in life may or may not perform certain procedures or prescribe certain medications for reasons that boil down to "facility policy." Those policies are important, and you may or may not have to abide by them, but they are NOT at the root of nursing. They are not the foundation of it. Sincere concern for, and desire to care for, other people - whether you agree with their religious views or not - is at the root of nursing. If you can't put aside your religious and political beliefs in favor of your patients and their beliefs, then you certainly did not heed any alleged call from the Great Beyond to be a nurse but you DID miss your calling in life as a minister or politician. Providing nursing care is not the time to preach and prosyletize. And I'm not talking about those rare instances when your beliefs coincidentally line up with those of your patient and you can have a discussion about their "Readiness for Spiritual Enhancement" nursing diagnosis without stepping on their toes. Even then, consider calling the chaplain first.
SSM provides exceptional care to a diverse community here in St. Louis, and in some other cities in other States as well. And it is done without concern about the particular beliefs of patients except for identifying and supporting their particular beliefs. No matter which company you work for, whether they are faith-based or not, you become a nurse to care for people. It doesn't require a memo from Jesus, or a fax from Zeus, or a slimy tentacle hug from Cthulhu. You just have to care. Every day, you meet new people with different beliefs or no religious belief at all. If you can't accept the reality of diversity and hold your opinion until you can vent outside of work, then nursing isn't for you.
(The soapbox was mine. I brought it with me, and I'm taking it with me when I sign off.)
I'm not getting into a religious debate here, so hold off if you're going to attack non-Christians. I've read enough of it from people on this forum so hateful and prejudiced it's a wonder they held down any job, and a total mystery as to why they thought nursing was a good job for them, especially if they talk that way on the job. I took the time to post here to try to elucidate the Futures program and applying to it. I wanted to alleviate some of the anxiety that new grads and future grads may be experiencing about getting a job since most of the companies in St. Louis have been anything but clear about their application process, often ignoring anyone who isn't a current employee and providing detailed information exclusively to internal applicants.
When applying for jobs, I put all of my eggs in one basket and held out all hope for joining the SSM team ONLY because my clinical experiences in school provided me with an opportunity to actually witness, and take part in, the exceptional care they claimed to provide. I believed in it. But I had good reason to.
Again, I'm just trying to help. If anyone has questions that were not answered here and are appropriate to ask, I will gladly answer them. I will not debate religion, so if you think nursing is a distinctly religious occupation, rant and rave and go nuts all you want, but you have to bring your own soapbox and audience. I will not identify the hourly pay rate for new nurses despite how much I loathe the nurses who say that they refuse to speak to a nursing student who asks them how much they get paid. (It is my understanding that, in St. Louis at least, new nurses can expect to be paid approximately the same amount. Roughly $40K per year? That's certainly fair, I think. The alternative - being unemployed - pays less.)