What Nurses Wish they Knew Before Starting School

What Nurses Wish they Knew Before Starting School
Beth Dumbauld

By Steven Pope

To all of those prospective nurses out there, this article is for you. Here is some wisdom from working registered nurses themselves. It will help you get your first job as a nurse and align yourself well in advance of the post-graduation-frenzy that often occurs in looking for work.

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Get a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) job while in college.

This is all about networking. The more people you have contact with, and the more nursing related experience you have, the better your shot at landing your first RN job. Nurses say that learning from and listening to RNs while you are a Certified Nursing Assistant is key.

While a CNA do not learn bad habits or give weight to other CNAs when you can be learning from RNs. One nurse writes on AllNurses.com “Do not listen to your CNA coworkers about their nursing assessments, because no matter how well-experienced they have not had a nursing education.”

The other reason to do CNA work is you might learn being a nurse just isn’t for you. Do you realize how much hygiene and nutrition related items you’re going to have to take care of? Showering and bathing people, cleaning up poop, lifting and moving patients, and everything in between are going to part of your daily routine.

You could also make connections and network by volunteering at blood drives, health fairs, or other related out-of-the-hospital events.

Get your BSN the first go-around.

Yes, you are eligible to work with your ADN as a registered nurse. But many colleges require that you have taken your classes within the last five years. So if you don’t want to repeat your Anatomy & Physiology I with Lab, finish your Bachelors of Science in Nursing concurrently. Hospitals are dealing with increasing pressure to have a magnet status. You’ll increase your chances of getting hired with a BSN anyway because managers will typically have a high preference.

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Study hard

While this goes without saying, study hard in your freshman year! As an enrollment counselor, I can tell you that many nurses had not-so-great grades from their early college years. This took their overall GPA down. The nurses typically had the same excuse every time, “I wasn’t as mature back then.”

Get critical care experience

If you’re going to do an externship get your experience in the ER or ICU. The operating room on the other hand is likely to be more routine, care type work. The critical care experience from the ER or ICU will go a long way in getting you hired in your first job. So while routine care experience is “good” experience, critical care experience is going to make you much more competitive. You’ll have more jobs to apply for, and more credibility for any job you apply for.

Use your clinicals downtime

While you’ll often be overbooked and overused in your clincials, you’ll still have some downtime. In these instances you should ask other nurses, aides, and even other students what you can do to help them. Not only is this going to make you look like the go-getter you are, increasing your chances of getting hired at that location, but you’re going to learn things you wouldn’t otherwise. You will learn something different from every rotation, so don’t waste a moment.

Pay attention in that nursing theory class

One nurse at AllNurses.com writes: “Nursing theory and nursing history may make no sense to you now, but it really is important and worthwhile. It is one of the things that make us a profession rather than just technical workers.”

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Learn how to write a resume

This advice is coming directly from my enrollment counselor experience. I’ve read hundreds of nursing resumes. I have to tell you I was far from impressed with the quality of “how” resumes read. Your experience may be the determining factor of you getting a job, but I have to tell you, if you have misspellings, formatting issues, and a lack of quantified points to show your experience, then you’re already behind in a time where the recession has given employers more choice in picking who they hire.

Prioritize your resume while you’re in college. Redo it every 6-months, and have at least 10 people read it. Your mom should be on the list of who you show it to, but more importantly you need to get it reviewed by other nurses. Ask them where your resume weaknesses are. You should also share your resume with professors and at least one writing expert. Make your resume say “I accomplished,” and steer away from being a “doer.” Employers need to be able to quantify your experience and saying things like “I worked in the ER” is a “doer” statement. Saying, “While in the ER I improved our response time by 30 seconds by…” on the other hand is an accomplishment.

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Steven Pope has an MBA from Western Governors University and Bachelors of Science in communication from Weber State University. 

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2 thoughts on “What Nurses Wish they Knew Before Starting School”

  • Lily M

    I have been admitted to The University of Miami school of Nursing as a transfer student. In the fall I will be a junior and well on my way to obtaining my BSN. My question is, what can I be doing these last two years to improve my employability once I graduate. I read all your recommendation but it's still unclear to what type of nursing related job I can get as a student.