Lost my first nursing job... now how do I find another?

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    Hi friends out in nursing land... I just joined to see if anyone might read my insane tale of nursing woe and have some seasoned advice...

    I'm a 2011 BSN graduate who held out for his dream position and eventually found it. I started as a new grad RN on a pediatric med-surg/IMC unit at one of the top-rated hospitals in the US. I couldn't have been more thrilled to be there, but from day one, things were nothing short of a disaster...

    My orientation period was fraught with anxiety despite excellent preceptor support (most of the time) and pretty much general "stage fright." I was absolutely useless on my own. I worried about things that were never issues and constantly missed things that were important. I made mistake after mistake after mistake (though thank God, never a med error). The biggest problem was that no matter how much I tried to hide it, I was (apparently) receiving numerous complaints from other nurses and patient families how much I looked like I didn't know what I was doing (because I didn't). I was spoken to several times over the course of my orientation by preceptors and my supervisor that my performance was unsatisfactory, but they knew I was a smart guy passionate about pediatrics that could really succeed. I was placed on an official warning that if my performance didn't improve I would be terminated at the end of orientation.

    At my supervisors' suggestion, I went to see a counselor through the hospital's faculty-staff assistance program. I was immediately involuntarily placed on indefinite unpaid medical leave and instructed to resolve both physical and emotional issues that they felt were affecting my performance. I was told my position would still be there whenever I was ready to return. Six weeks later, I was cleared to return under the agreement that I would have two weeks' remaining orientation and I needed to demonstrate competency before then. After working my first shift back, it became clear to me that nothing had changed and there was absolutely no way I was going to be ready to be on my own in five more shifts. This opinion was supported by my preceptors.

    The hospital had, from day one, fostered an atmosphere of concern for your individual success as a nurse. We were told in no uncertain terms during general hospital orientation that if you were unhappy with your position or not performing well, under no circumstances should you quit - the hospital would be more than happy to work with you to find the best placement for you. My preceptors also assured me multiple times that this was what would happen if it didn't work out on this floor, and that at this point I needed to let my supervisor know that I felt I was not a good fit and she would assist me to find another position...

    I was told in order to be considered for another position, I had to provide a letter of resignation from the current position and I foolishly did so. My supervisor arranged for me to shadow a nurse on the children's psych unit, and I thought this was a much better fit. The NM of that floor was supposed to meet with me that day to discuss the possibility of my transferring, but she did not show up. I received an e-mail the following day from my supervisor informing me that no other positions for someone with my lack of experience existed within the entire hospital and they were going to process my resignation as termination. Horrified, I replied that the letter stated I only wished to resign from my position on that particular unit and not from the hospital itself, and that I only gave such a letter because I was told I had to. I requested to simply finish my orientation to the best of my ability, at which time I would accept their judgment of whether or not to retain me. The NM told me this was not an option, citing patient safety concerns and terminated me anyway.

    I filed for unemployment and was rejected because technically providing a resignation letter meant I left voluntarily without good cause. I took my case to the state appeals court. When no representative from the hospital showed up, I told them what happened and was granted unemployment since the state ruled that I was unfairly discharged. So I know at the very least the termination was not totally my fault.

    So here is where I need help. I have absolutely no idea how to explain this to any future prospective employers. I have been applying for just about any job I can think of for the past three months since this happened and I haven't gotten a single interview. I've been putting on applications that I left voluntarily (because I technically did) and been putting "will gladly discuss in interview" as my reason for leaving. I know it's a horrific job market, and three months experience basically equals zero (although I have been rejected from new graduate positions because of it) so that's more likely why I can't get an interview. But I am an absolute loss for how to put a "positive spin" on this situation. Do I mention that I had medical difficulties that were affecting my performance and I chose to leave to focus on them (this is pretty much true anyway) or will that get me the boot immediately? Do I explain that I didn't "mean" to quit (because I didn't think I was) and the whole story or does that just make me look foolish and like I'm bad-mouthing my former employer? I have zero idea of what to say when I am inevitably asked to explain why I left. I know this is tl;dr but if anyone has any kind of idea how I can talk about this, I would be extremely grateful for your suggestions.

    -Hopeless in PA
    Last edit by 071911 on Sep 19, '12
    CrufflerJJ and Joe V like this.
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  3. 41 Comments so far...

  4. 7
    You could be perfectly honest in saying this position was not a good fit. It happens. Learn from this and move forward.
    silenced, Emilynn09, MomBSN, and 4 others like this.
  5. 0
    I have no advice but I feel for you, I was let go from my employer during my 90 days and felt defeated. Luckily I have found a new job, but not my dream job :/
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    Honestly I wouldn't be too worried about finding another job. It doesn't look great to only be at a job for several weeks but if you weren't terminated (which technically it sounds like you weren't) then just say something along the lines of "I was grateful for the experience and opportunity but I had some personal issues at the time and it was just bad timing." They're most likely not going to grill you about this during your interview.

    I'd worry more about what made you so anxious and error prone that not only your preceptors but family members were complaining about you. Even if you don't know what you're doing and are anxious (and every new nurse has been here, especially during the first several months), you need to look like you have yourself under control and come off as professional.

    Everyone makes mistakes starting out. I learned a lot by making mistakes (small ones) and being corrected. But if you have multiple co-workers saying your work is unsatisfactory maybe you need to open up some of the old nursing books and figure out what areas you were deficient in and try to resolve them before starting to look for a new job. Especially if the one you were at previously was as accommodating to new grads as you claim.

    Good luck
  7. 1
    Yes I would say that it just wasn't a good fit. This too shall pass!! Move forward, learn from this experience and good luck =)
    RRWilson,RN2 likes this.
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    It is extremely difficult to find a job as a relatively new grad or one with the wrong type of experience (I had trouble switching from pscyh to med/surg). I would advise you to look at opportunities outside of the hospital. Hospitals are going to look for greater levels experience and the fact that you did not perform to the expectations of your preceptors/previous employers means that you probably won't have good references from them. You might want to try a nursing home/rehab if you can't get into one of the hospitals. At the same time I would suggest networking. Sometimes who you know can supersede your lack of experience.
  9. 7
    Dear Hopeless,

    First change your nickname. There is hope. Be Hopeful in PA! Second, I have been a nurse for 30 years and my first ten years were extremely difficult. It was a combination of my own issues with maturity and mental health and poor mentoring/support. Nurses are very hard on one another, especially newbies. It is extremely difficult to perform well under intense scrutiny especially if you have any mental health or anxiety problems. But it is not impossible, you just need a good fit and a supportive environment.

    My advice is to keep applying as if you are a new grad, which you basically are since your experience doesn't yet add up to more than that. Lots of new grads do not find work for quite awhile. If you feel you must share, understate as much as possible, do not overshare, do not criticize prior management, just keep it minimalistic and positive. It didn't work out. Lots of jobs don't work out.

    And don't hold out for a dream job anymore. Get experience where you can.

    Final thought: Even though I was asked to resign from my first job (and others too along the way--management likes to avoid firing wherever they can) I eventually found my way into an area I never would have thought I could grow to love and interestingly enough, my very first job influenced how I arrived where I am now, even though it was pure hell at the time. Life is funny that way!

    Hang in there, you will eventually see what purpose this experience has served for you. No perceived failure is the end of the line unless you let it be and to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

    Be Hopeful!
    cynforgiven, silenced, AreEn17, and 4 others like this.
  10. 4
    Have you gained any more insight into why you were not performing up to standards on the job? If it was patient acuity -- are you actively looking for jobs in lower acuity settings? I wouldn't necessarily chalk this up to a "learning experience" and to "move on" with your job search without some real soul-searching. New grads are expected to be anxious and to make mistakes (even med errors), but multiple complaints from coworkers and families, taking medical leave d/t anxiety, etc. is not normal. Seems like THIS should be something that you're also addressing or else you will end up in the same position that you're in now over and over again.

    Definitely be vague in your answer. Concur with the "unit just wasn't a good fit for me" response. If you're interviewing for, say, a home health position and they pressure you, follow up with keywords like holistic care, getting to know your patient, etc. If it's for an adult unit, say that it wasn't until you'd worked with kiddos for a while that you realized your true passion was adults/geriatrics/etc. Put a positive spin and emphasize why you want the current job that you're interviewing for, not why you lost your last job. Definitely do NOT give the whole, detailed explanation that you gave us.

    Are you using your last job for references? (I'm assuming not?)
    silenced, okranurse, Jasel, and 1 other like this.
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    I'm a long way from graduation, so I cannot give you pointers on job applications. However, I can tell you that confidence is EVERYTHING no matter what you do. If you keep telling yourself you CAN, you will find that you WILL. Fake it till you make it honey. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours, and I agree - do NOT give up hope! Have faith in yourself!!!
    silenced, AheleneLPN, joanna73, and 2 others like this.
  12. 0
    -I am sorry this happened. Lots of good suggestions.. Keep interviewing and stay strong!!


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