I Graduated Nursing School, Now What?

This is my personal experience on what life after nursing school is really like. I explain my expectations upon graduation, and what having to face reality was like. I had to make a decision to broaden my search, look into units that I originally did not consider and go outside of my comfort zone in order to land my first gig as a nurse. Nursing Students General Students Article

I Graduated Nursing School, Now What?

I remember the first day that I started nursing school. I had butterflies in my stomach and so much excitement I could have burst at the seams right there in fundamentals lab. I went through an accelerated BSN program and it was a roller coaster full of ups, downs and loops that throw you sideways. There were times that I questioned myself but I persevered no matter how hard it got. I received my diploma and then passed the NCLEX a month later and got my license. Woo hoo! I'm officially a Registered Nurse... Now what?

Just like many new graduates out there, I had a vision of how my life would go after graduation. I'd apply to the local NICU's, L&D's, ER's and about 1-2 months and a few interviews later land the job of my dreams. Little did I know that things would not go as planned. Now don't get me wrong, there are always the exceptions that land their dream job right out of nursing school, but I want to address the other population that may feel lost or disappointed when things veer off from the carefully mapped out route.

I received my nursing license in September of 2016. Almost instantaneously, I applied to every hospital within a 30 mile radius in all of the units that I absolutely adored. I live in an urban area that has many great hospitals, so I felt that I would have a good shot at landing one of them. The problem was that not many hospitals seemed to be taking on new graduates during the holiday season, and the ones that did were very few and far between. I even went to a career fair at a hospital that was open to new grads, but was not offering any positions to new grads at that time. That was not very encouraging.

The new graduate programs at the major hospitals that opened in the fall and spring were extremely competitive. A lot of them seemed to only take individuals who were already employed by the company in support roles. Although I've had over one hundred hours of volunteer work in the NICU, I do not have experience working in a clinical setting. A few of my friends from nursing school and I applied to the same programs. Two of them got call backs for interviews, but I did not. I was devastated. I have every certification I could get (BLS, PALS, ACLS, NRP... etc), and yet I was still slipping through the cracks and not getting noticed.

After a couple months with no luck I was very disheartened and decided that I needed to broaden my search to areas that I hadn't considered before. I started applying to different units and ended up getting an interview for the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at a VA hospital that was a little further than I originally wanted to travel for work. I had never done a rotation in a SCI unit and we didn't cover much about that in nursing school, so I did some research on the internet to find out more about it. Turns out there still isn't that much information on the internet because there seems to be few dedicated units to spinal cord injuries. This would be a position that I would go in not knowing exactly what it would be like. I decided to give it a shot, because the worst case scenario I didn't get the job and it would be good practice for interviewing.

It was a panel interview with four nurse managers along with a written section that had several scenario based questions. Luckily I felt very prepared for the written section and I got along really well with all of the nurse managers. I would even go as far to say that it was probably the best interview I have been on because I felt comfortable enough to be myself and have real conversations with the members of the panel. I was told at the end if I didn't get a call back within two weeks to just keep applying. I was very unsure of what that meant. Did that mean they already knew I wasn't going to be selected? Did that mean they really liked me but the ultimate decision was out of their hands?

Luckily a little over two weeks later I received a tentative job offer and invitation to start the pre-employment process. Finally! I had to go in for a physical, drug test, fingerprint scan, submit another application online (even though I already had previously), put together a package to submit to a board of nurses (who use the information I submit to determine my salary), complete the online VetPro portion (which is a credential verification process) and have three references submit letters of recommendation directly to HR (even though I had the original signed copies of my letters of recommendation). This whole process took about a month and a half. I had to learn patience, which is not easy for an eager new grad nurse. I finally got a call near the end of December with my salary offer and start date.

Although it's not glamorous, this job comes with many great benefits which includes great pay (especially for a new grad), differentials (extra pay) for nights, weekends and even more for working nights on weekends, 10 paid federal holidays, 5 weeks vacation time a year that starts accruing from day one, sick pay, possible student loan repayment, and full time hours. Although money isn't everything, if you've been in nursing school for the last three years a stable source of good pay is something to celebrate. Sometimes you will have to make sacrifices which might include lower pay for a more desirable unit, good pay but with a unit that isn't your favorite or even traveling a little further than what you would like. This is not all inclusive, so this does not mean everyone will necessarily fall into these categories, it just means that there is a possibility of these decisions coming up at any point in your career. Which decision you make is entirely up to you and the available opportunities out there.

I will be starting my nursing career in a completely different direction than I anticipated. I was willing to go outside of my comfort zone in order to get experience in the clinical setting. For some people, this will be easy and others it might seem completely out of the question. I will never know why other people get those exciting dream jobs with seemingly little effort and it took me months of full time job searching, tears and frustration to even get a job at all. What I do know is that I am still extremely excited about getting the opportunity to be a nurse and will make the most out of what I am given. After all, I'm still at the beginning of my journey and there is still so much time to attain different goals and make changes later on down the road if I so choose. So if you are, or have been, in my shoes before try to think of it this way: If you hit dead stop traffic on one freeway it might cause a delay, but keep in mind there are still alternate routes to get to your destination!

I am a new graduate nurse with my BSN, RN in California. I'm navigating my way through the vast and sometimes scary world of being a new nurse.

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Just a few small cavils: Schools graduate students; students graduate from schools. Instantaneously isn't the same thing as immediately. And there is a HUGE amount of information on SCI and many, many units for SCI care all over the country.

Suggest you check out the PVA, Paralyzed Veterans of America Paralyzed Veterans of America -- they have amazing resources for patients and caregivers, all free.

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

So right - I had no clue where I wanted to end up but started out in med-surg, then PICU, then adult ICU, then ER (favorite by far), then nephrology.

There are always options...

I'm still waiting to hear back from the programs I applied to (accelerated BSN) but wanted to say I would love to work on a SCI floor someday. In fact, I'm very open minded in terms of where I'd like to work. I just love patient care (current CNA).

I'm in my final semester of nursing school BSN but I applied for the VALOR program from the VA this past summer and got a "job" as a paid intern in the operating room which is amazing. I knew absolutely nothing about the OR, but now I know it's what I want to do for the majority of my career. They also hire you through this internship so technically I have my first job waiting for me. It's a huge relief because I hear horror stories like this constantly. Perseverance pays off though, congrats!