Six Pieces of Advice for New Nurses

I recently had a candid conversation with a soon-to-be nursing graduate. We chatted for quite a while about my experiences and how much nursing school has changed in 23 years. After we talked, I jotted down all of the pieces of advice I gave her and now you can check it out here. Nurses New Nurse Knowledge

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  • Workforce Development Columnist
    Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.
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Six Pieces of Advice for New Nurses

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!

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word. She works for a start-up overseeing the lab & clinical operations of a hybrid CNA program.

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Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, NP

18 Articles; 192 Posts

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner.

Thank you so much @Melissa Mills for offering these great tips. I recently interviewed a ton of nursing candidates (many of whom were new grads) for a small-but-growing start-up.

Apparently, several of the candidates had never been advised in job-search/interview etiquette. One applicant never made it to the first interview because he failed to capitalize the proper nouns in his address. Another top candidate made it through the first two interviews with flying colors but then she emailed a super skimpy first-names-only-plus-a-phone-number list when we asked for her references.

Here are some things I might add to your great advice:
1) Remember that professionalism counts in everything you do and never take the basics for granted: Double-check your resume for typos including capitalization and punctuation errors; mind your personal hygiene (all those strict rules your clinical instructor harped upon regarding proper shoes, hairstyle, jewelry, and fingernail length in your clinical rotations are applicable in the real world!); use correct grammar in written and spoken communications.
2) Have your documents ready. If your interviewer asks you for references, proof of licensure, certification, education, or training, be ready to send the appropriate, complete, and legible documents right away.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa Mills, BSN

126 Articles; 367 Posts

Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.

Awesome additions @Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN! It seems that nursing schools are not putting enough emphasis on some of these basic skills that can make or break a new nurse when looking for a job. ~Melissa


18 Posts

Specializes in Clinical Research.

I teach in a BSN program. This year, half of the students requested to do preceptorship on an L&D or post-partum unit. We do mock interviews the semester they graduate and most of them want to work in that environment or in peds. I try to prepare them that they may not be able to work there for their first job. I suggest if it doesn't work out when applying they go to a med-surg/tele unit and build their foundational skills and then try for L&D after a year or two of foundational experience. There's just not enough L&D positions for everyone that wants to go there. I interviewed 27 students in the Spring and only 2 of them were applying for med-surg. One was military and it was required. They both stated the reason they wanted to start there was to build foundational skills. I had a co-worker that went to a tele unit for a year or two after graduation and successfully transferred to peds. He's an amazing peds nurse, but couldn't get hired as a new grad.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa Mills, BSN

126 Articles; 367 Posts

Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.

Thanks so much for your experiences @emmasuern! It is def more challenging start in a more specialized unit. If a new nurse knows where they want to work, I say go for it! I worked on a medical-oncology floor for one year and then went directly into the NICU. I would not say that my experience was highly applicable in the NICU considering that neonates and adults are entirely different. However, what I did gain during that year was experience & confidence in my abilities. ? (Of course, this was 20+ years ago & quite different than today's hospital environments.)

kbrn2002, ADN, RN

3,819 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis.

I would add that while it's preferable to get that 1-2 years experience after landing that first job before exploring other options it's not by any means vital.

There are good employers but there are also truly horrible workplaces that can and do sour a new nurse's perception of their career choice. While a lot of first year issues can be attributed to the natural growing pains of working as a new nurse that doesn't mean somebody needs to tough out a bad fit for a year just to get that one year in before looking for a better fit elsewhere.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa Mills, BSN

126 Articles; 367 Posts

Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.

Excellent point, @kbrn2002!

Queen Tiye, RN

238 Posts

Great and necessary article. In my experience, new nurses are seldom hired on their unit of choice. Definitely go for it, but be willing to “get in where you fit in” if you don’t land a position of your choice right away. You can always transfer.

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