I recently chatted with a soon-to-be nursing school graduate. She asked many questions about my nursing journey. She was interested in the type of unit that provides the best experience for a nurse grad, and she even wanted to hear about the different jobs I’ve held during my career. As we talked, I recognized that she was looking for mentorship.
New ventures often bring about questions, fears, and apprehensions. While nursing is a noble profession, it can be stressful, and sometimes, downright scary. One way we can help is to give them open, honest answers and share our experiences without assuming that they want the same type of career that we have had. Here are the six pieces of advice I shared with this soon to be new nurse.
Don’t Settle on Your First Job
If you were told by a nursing professor that all new nurses need to start their career on a medical-surgical unit, please raise your hand. As thousands of hands go up across the country, I must say that I disagree. While this type of unit offers a solid base of nursing practice, it doesn’t match everyone’s nursing goals.
You must be intentional when finding a job that fits with your overall nursing career goals. If you want to work in a high-acuity nursing setting such as intensive care or cardiac care, look for internship programs that provide training and mentorship. If you have a passion for geriatrics and long-term care settings, go there and find a facility that will train you and provide the experience you need to have a long career in this specialty. No matter where you see yourself, there is a way to get there without spending the proverbial two-years in med-surg.
Create a Resume & Cover Letter for Each Job
Finding the best first job in nursing relies heavily on your nursing resume and cover letter. Many people believe that once you create a basic resume and letter you can use it to apply to any job. This isn’t always true. The best thing to do is to spend a little time revising your basic documents to fit the specifics of each prospective position.
Because most resumes never see the top of a nurse manager’s desk, it’s critical that you use keywords that will be recognized by an applicant tracking system (ATS). ATSs pull resumes to the top of the pile if the keywords match. So, while changing your resume over and over might feel a bit daunting, it is definitely worth the work.
You should also make sure that your cover letter is personal and speaks to the job. Do this by highlighting your skills that match the role. You can also showcase some of your transferable skills and even any awards or acknowledgments you’ve received in your cover letter. For example, being bilingual may not be required for the job, but it can catch the attention of the hiring manager.
Find a Mentor
Once you land that first job, you will likely be matched with a nurse trainer or mentor. This nurse and the others on your first nursing unit can provide invaluable information and experience. If you don’t mesh well with the person training you, no worries! There are a few other ways that you can find a mentor that fits your needs.
First, create a LinkedIn profile. Send requests to nurses and other healthcare professionals who have the job you only dream about at this point in your career. Read what they write and research some of the sites or organizations that they follow. You can even send them a private message and ask if they would be willing to mentor you. This might be a monthly virtual meeting or just a few chats or text messages as you navigate through your new career.
Another way to find a mentor is to ask the human resources department at work if they have a formal mentoring program. Many employers have these types of programs to reduce turnover and boost the success of new hires.
Build a Network
If you are just starting out, you likely have a good solid network of other new nurses. Keep this network strong and add to it. Connect with your network often. Consider starting a private facebook group or text message group so that you can all chat and share stories about your new career.
While you may gravitate towards nurses with the same type of experience as you, having a diverse network is best. Try to network with tenured and new nurses alike. You should even consider opening up your network to other types of healthcare providers, such as physicians, therapists, and certified nursing assistants. The more people in your group with varied experiences, the easier it will be for you to grow as a professional.
Prepare for Your Interviews
Preparing for interviews isn’t hard, but it does take a little work. First, research the facility in which you are interviewing. Read about their history, mission, vision, and values. Search for articles about the facility in the news. Perform a search on websites like Indeed or Glassdoor to see what current and former employees say about the culture.
Next, practice your answers to common nursing interview questions. Ask a family member or friend to play the role of the interviewer. Answer each question until you feel confident in how to answer.
Finally, be sure to write down questions that you want to ask of the nurse manager. Take this opportunity to ask about the culture of the unit, what type of nurse fits well, and the expectations of the job. You should also be prepared to ask about benefits, pay, and growth opportunities.
Don’t Rush out of Orientation
Orientation is not a race! Don’t worry about being the new nurse who finishes orientation before anyone else. Take your time and learn as much as possible while you are in orientation. If you get to the end of your training period and don’t feel confident about your skills, talk to the manager, and request an extension.
Be Intentional with Self-Care
Nursing is hard. This means that you need to take care of yourself and your mental health. Be sure to find a group of trusted friends and colleagues who you can talk to when things get rough at work. This might be your mentor or nurse manager. A few other ways to take care of your physical and mental health include:
Schedule vacation days away from work
Stay home if you are ill
Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water
Get 8-hours of sleep each night
Participate in at least 30-minutes of exercise daily
Take your breaks at work
Practice meditation or mindfulness daily
Ask others for help when you need it
Starting any new career is challenging, but remember that you are never alone. While nursing can be hard and being the new kid on the block is never easy, you are starting a career that you will love. Reach out to others for advice anytime you need it. You may even find an experienced nurse like me who truly enjoys helping a new nurse find the best unit for your first job!