The Beginner’s Guide on How to Become a Nurse
The path to becoming a nurse requires hundreds of hours of lectures, studying, and clinical practice. The end result can be a rewarding and meaningful career that makes a positive difference in the lives of people. The most common path to becoming a nurse is to attend a registered nurse degree program at the associate’s or bachelor’s level which provides for the greatest range of job opportunities.
A nursing career provides a diverse range of opportunities including working at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, private homes, and schools. It allows individuals to apply themselves as problem solvers, caregivers, patient advocates, and educators. Once you have obtained a nursing license, you can choose to work in an area that interests you, whether that be working with premature infants in the NICU, with cancer patients in the Oncology unit, or one of many other areas of nursing. Nursing job demand is expected to be stronger than most occupations in the coming years with a projected 19% growth rate in the decade from 2012-2022.1
The following steps outline the typical steps for how to become a nurse:
Step 1. Choose your path to an initial nursing license (LPN or RN).
The first step is to decide on whether you want to become a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse for the initial license. After you have obtained your initial license as an LPN or RN, you can pursue additional education to advance your career in the field of nursing. A great majority of nurses that work in a hospital setting have obtained a minimum of a registered nursing license.
Step 2. Choose a nursing degree program.
There are several hundred nursing degree programs at colleges across the country, however some programs are highly competitive and have limited openings due to a national shortage in nursing school faculty (in 2012 nursing programs turned away over 79,000 qualified applicants).2 Many nursing schools also require applicants to pass an entrance exam.3
When choosing a nursing degree program you may want to consider some of the following factors:
- Type of nursing degree granted (LPN or RN diploma, ADN, or BSN)
- Prerequisites of program
- Acceptance rate into the program/available seats
- NCLEX pass rate of past students
- Location of clinical training
- Prestige/reputation of school
Learn about nursing degree programs in your state on our home page.
Step 3. Obtain your diploma.
Completing your coursework and clinical training is a challenging and rewarding experience that requires hard work, dedication, and perseverance.
Step 4. Submit your application for state licensure.
Each state has specific requirements for nursing licensure. Plan ahead by researching the requirements posted at your state’s department of health website.
Step 5. Complete a background check.
Many states require fingerprinting and a background check to ensure the safety of patients. Fingerprinting must be taken by a local law enforcement, government agency, or an approved third party.
Step 6. Pass the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN exam.
The NCLEX is the final obstacle to overcome before you become a licensed nurse. Studies show that students have a higher pass rate when taking their NCLEX soon after graduation.4
Step 7. Pursue employment as a nurse.
It is a good idea to get a head start on finding employment by applying for positions and building your network while still in school. Some activities that can help you secure a job include volunteering and networking with nursing professionals through a local nursing association. Check out our daily job board for the latest nursing job openings across the country.
Step 8. Continuing education and nursing certification.
To renew a nursing license requires the completion of a specified number of hours of approved continuing education courses. Additionally, there are several nursing certifications that can demonstrate expertise in a specific area of nursing. Examples of nursing certification include the Certified Critical Care Nurse and the Certified Emergency Nurse. You may also consider pursuing a higher degree through an LPN to RN program, RN or BSN program, or master’s in nursing program to advance your career.
Advice for Getting Hired as a Nurse
- Develop professional relationships with Nursing Faculty during your program of study: Your faculty members are seasoned nurses who are typically well integrated into the local nursing profession. They can help you network within your community to secure the best jobs, and can serve as your first professional reference to help you stand out as the best candidate for the job.
- Shape yourself as a leader: During your nursing program, participate in activities that help define you as a nurse leader: join the student nurses association, serve on school committees, assist faculty in nursing related research, serve as a volunteer in a clinic or a medical mission. Employers review hundreds of resumes of nursing graduates with excellent grades. Students who have excellent grades coupled with volunteer work stand out as nurses that are clearly committed to the nursing profession and have leadership potential.
- Sharpen your customer service skills: Every employer requires that nurses be clinically competent, but in today’s health care industry, employers are looking for nurses that have a je ne sais quoi that helps differentiate them from other providers. Nurses that have customer service training such as managing during difficult situations, communication, understanding human psychology and attentiveness will stand out as the best hire.
- If you do not have the recommended level of schooling, discuss your plans for further advancing your education.
- Tell your prospective employer what skills you are reading or learning about that will make you a better employee for them. Maybe you are volunteering, reading, or going to a conference.
- Dress for success at the interview and be free of smells like perfume and smoke as they can be offensive.
- Get the job description beforehand and have examples of how your skills and experience match the requirements. Take it with you so you can be sure to touch on all the things you wish to discuss.
- When asked about your strengths, don’t forget to include character traits that you think are important. Although some values seem obvious, not all people possess the same work ethics.
- Don’t take a job that you feel is above your ability perform responsibly and safely. Ask questions about the job description and talk to other employees.
- Have your “elevator speech” ready for networking and interviews. Tell about your background, accomplishments, and goals without sounding rehearsed.
- Dress professionally and to the position to ASPIRE to, not the one you’re in.
- Learn about the facility and its mission prior to your interview – it shows you are motivated and genuinely interested in working for that company. In turn, they will be more interested in YOU.
- Bring a copy of your resume even if you have sent one already. Often times, your resume is in a pile on the desk and it’s nice to have it readily available to the interviewer if necessary.
- ASK questions that pertain to your employment such as, who will evaluate you and when, on what criteria do they base high performance, what qualities do they need to operate efficiently, e.g. excellent communication skills or speed, or both, what are they looking for in an employee.
- Let the employer bring up salary if you do not know what the rate will be. If the interview is coming to a close, feel free to bring up pay since this will likely help you determine if you want to move forward with this company.
- When discussing pay, ask for more than you will accept so when the negotiation begins, you will settle on what you were wanting to get – REMEMBER – you don’t get paid what you’re worth, you get paid what you NEGOTIATE!
- Lastly, YOU have a choice and do not have to accept a job you will not be happy with. There will be other opportunities!
- Proofread your resume to ensure it is error free – Errors in your resume make you appear to be careless and sloppy.
- Your resume should target the position you are seeking – Don’t have your cover letter reference a hospital position if you are applying for a job in a physician’s office.
- Research the position you are applying for – This will help you during the interview process to answer questions which are particular to the position.
- Don’t be afraid to follow up – The prospective employer desires someone who is eager to work for them.
- Apply for the job you want to be in – The prospective employer does not want to be a stepping stone to another position or career goal.
- Don’t take it personally if you do not get the position – It isn’t about you! You were a great candidate, but someone else was a better fit at this time. Keep going you will find the perfect job for YOU!
-Lisa Nistler BSN, RN, NCSN is President of the Tennessee Association of School Nurses and Director of School Health, Nashville, Tennessee.
I love being a nurse as much today, if not more, than I did when I graduated from nursing school in 1997. I hope you find as much joy and passion from your career as I have experienced. The key is to find a job that sparks your passion. The first step is to find the specialty that excites you. Sit, think hard and write a list of the areas that interest you. Then contact a local hospital and ask to job shadow in those areas. During your experience, dress professionally, be energetic and enthusiastic. These are the qualities managers are looking for when hiring. Make a great impression and you will be at the top of the list when looking for a new employee.
-Stacey Savage is President of the New Hampshire Emergency Nurses Association
Getting hired in the field of nursing is as much about meeting your career goals as it is about the employer filling open positions. If you take the job just because it was offered to you, you may be unhappy. Take every opportunity you can to work in as many different fields of nursing as possible while you are a student. Getting to experience what each work environment is really like is critical to determining where your particular skill set as a nurse will be best utilized. Don’t be afraid to work as a nursing aid, EMT, lab assistant, or at some other health related job while you are in nursing school. Confidence is important but remember you are still a novice and joining a facility that has a nurse internship for new grads will increase the likelihood that you will have a good first work experience and will stay in nursing long term. Working on a med-surg unit these days is like working in the ICU of 20 years ago, so don’t look down your nose at floor positions. The nurses on the floors have to have to have great organizational skills, be clinical experts, and be able to engage families in the healthcare process so that the 1-2 days you have to prepare a patient for discharge are maximized and the discharge successful. Be enthusiastic and willing to learn. Remember that nursing is about meeting the needs of our patients and we are the advocates that they depend on while in the hospital. Smile a lot, be prepared to work off-shifts or rotate shifts, and join a professional organization so that you have a network of support to call on.
-Lorraine Bock DNP, CRNP, CEN is President of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners.
Donna Carol Maheady
Be flexible and cast a wide net (school health, health department, home health agency). Gain experience through volunteer work because volunteering can often lead to a position. Work with an agency giving flu shots in the community. Don’t limit your options to one particular area. Get out there! Consider moving, working in a rural or underserved area or with the Indian Health services.
-Donna Carol Maheady ARNP, EdD is a pediatric nurse practitioner, author, faculty member at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University, and founder of Exceptional Nurse.
As advanced practice registered nurses, CRNAs practice with a high degree of autonomy and professional respect. They carry a heavy load of responsibility and are compensated accordingly. That being said, in order to become a CRNA you must be in the top 1% of your nursing class. The competition is intense to be accepted into an anesthesia program but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. Once you are a CRNA and are interviewing for a job:
- Show that your are a team player. Anesthesia is a team sport working with many disciplines to care safely and effectively for the patient.
- Be involved in your professional organization, such as the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). Without the American Nurses Association (ANA) there would still be nurses, without the AANA there would not be nurse anesthetists.
- Dress professionally when you are going to interview.
- Take your curriculum vitae and certification information with you. For more information visit www.aana.com.
-Sharon Pearce CRNA, MSN is President Elect of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
Getting hired as a new nurse can be very difficult these days depending on where you are, but there are several things you can do to give yourself an edge over your competition. One of the most important things you can do while you are in your undergraduate program is to obtain an externship, ideally in a hospital where you might want to work after you graduate. But there is a lot of competition for externships too, so be prepared and take the interview process seriously. For any interview, dress appropriately, develop a professional CV, and work on your interview skills. Research the organization ahead of time so you can ask some intelligent questions that demonstrate you have taken the time to find out about the organization.
Networking with practicing nurses will also be of great help to you. Attend meetings of the chapter(s) of your state nursing association in your area and get to know the members. Even if you are an undergraduate student, members will be impressed by your initiative and interest and once they know you, will most likely be happy to help you find a job with their connections. Finally, take advantage of opportunities at your school that might help you stand out. Your time is precious, so be judicious and choose activities that will highlight your unique skills. For example, if you speak another language, get involved in something where you can put that talent to use. If you enjoy research, see if you can help on a research or quality improvement project. Most importantly, remember to always behave professionally with your faculty and preceptors. You never know who they might know and if you impress them, they might be able to open many doors for you. Nursing school at any level can be very challenging, but stay engaged and cheerful and save your complaints and frustration to share with others away from campus and/or your clinical site. You will be remembered for your positive and enthusiastic attitude!
-Rebecca Wheeler, PhD, MA, RN is President of the Georgia Nurses Association
I believe those interested in successful hire into the nursing profession should have:
- A BSN – if less than BSN – go back to school part-time to obtain BSN.
- Experience in the field they wish to enter – for example if inpatient nursing – volunteer at a hospital or better yet, get a job part-time while still in school as a nursing assistant, unit secretary or other support position.
- Practice interviewing – be prepared to demonstrate critical thinking and good work behaviors through scenarios of patients cared for in clinical/practicums, dress professionally, make eye contact, have a professionally prepared resume and portray yourself with confidence and enthusiasm.
-Donna Casey BSN, MA, RN, FABC, NE-BC is the Secretary of the Delaware Organization of Nurse Leaders and Director of Patient Care Services, Cardiovascular & Critical Care and Co-Chair, Ethics Committee at Christiana Care Health System
Dorothy Upson McCabe
We in Massachusetts do not have a nursing shortage, therefore my recommendations reflect the current state in nursing employment. My recommendations are as follows for students in Schools of Nursing and those with plans for entering the nursing field:
- Enroll in a BSN program.
- Work as a nursing assistant or in the hospital setting while in nursing school, developing relationships with staff.
- Have an excellent academic record.
- Become active in your State Student Nurse Association. Demonstrate leadership in this organization.
- Display an enthusiastic interest in every clinical affiliation by engaging with staff and demonstrating clinical caring and willingness to learn the skills required for their patient population.
- Cultivate relationships with employed nurses or persons in the health field. They can be friends, family etc., and could provide a future employment recommendation.
-Dorothy Upson McCabe RN, MS, M.Ed. is Director of Divisions of Nursing and Health and Safety for the Massachusetts Nurses Association
I have been an ED nurse for greater than 30 years both at staff and management level. When I was interviewing I was most impressed with those who were members of, and active in, their professional organization. This indicated commitment to the profession and to their specialty. Flexibility is also a plus. Healthcare is 24/7, no matter where you work. If you don’t wish to rotate, which is physically difficult for many, then agree to work one of the off shifts, evenings or nights. This will make it easier to adapt sleep habits and social obligations, especially if you can have a set schedule to plan. At the student level, if you can find a part time or per diem position as a CNA or something similar, this will give you invaluable experience in talking to and interacting with patients under difficult circumstances. Learn how to do accurate vital signs, take rectal temps, watch your nursing peers interact and assess. You can never learn enough.
-Virginia Hebda MS, RN, CEN, NE-BC is the 2014 President of the New York State Emergency Nursing Association
- Have a positive attitude.
- Invest in your own professional development.
- Volunteer in professional development opportunities and your community.
- Seek opportunities in continuing your education.
- Become involved in your professional organization.
-Tami Wheeldon RN, BSN, CEN is the Education Committee Chair of the Washington State Emergency Nurses Association
My answer to your question comes from over 35 years in the field of nursing. I have held many positions, mostly as an NP, but in nursing the advice is similar regardless of the specialty you seek, in my opinion. My best advice to nurses in getting hired is:
- Spend time developing and polishing your resume and cover letter.
- Be honest and market your best qualities-genuinely.
- Network with colleagues/nurses and when possible use a referring nurse’s name who is familiar to the agency. You are more likely to “get in the door” if you have a connection.
- Be wise and proactive in acquiring good references-people who think highly of your work, and people who will go the extra mile and write a splendid letter on your behalf.
- Don’t give up! Sometimes it’s that 50th cover letter that wins you an interview.
-Karen Holder, FNP-BC, CNM, MHS is President of the Arizona Nurse Practitioner Council.
I would advise them to be open-minded when it comes to getting their first job. I have worked in several different nursing settings and this gave me a lot of experience. You may want to work in the ER, but a job may not be available yet. Starting to work on the surgical floor does not mean you will never move. Every unit will give you experience which is always valuable. In short, “avoid being too picky.”
-Joyce Fiodembo is a nurse, author, and founder of International Nurse Support.
My advice is to get as much education, experience, knowledge and skills as possible and to learn to work collaboratively with a diverse workforce and sensitively and with caring with your clients. When recruiting and hiring, I look for an applicant that has energy, knowledge, and skills, especially with the ability to actively listen and effectively communicate. I look for a pleasant “can do attitude” and willingness to learn new skills and be able to graciously adapt to change.
-Patti Cassinerio, MA, BSN, PHN, RN is President of the California School Nurses Organization
Attend professional nursing meetings in your field of interest. This can lead to job openings before they go to the general public, plus you may be able to determine if this is really a field of nursing for you. Network. Get as much experience as you can, this will allow you to get the job you want. All work experience may not be enjoyable, but it is all useful.
-Marianne Mika, RN, CCM is Vice President of the Florida State Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc.
Be active in your student nurses association. Upon graduation and licensure join your State Nurses Association. RNs such as yourself are in a position to make change happen by joining your State Nurses Association. If RNs came together we would be heard and policies and procedures would change; however at this time our voices are not loud enough with only 2-3% of RNs belonging to their professional association. Networking with fellow nurses who value the professional association is so important. State Nurses Associations have been and continue to advocate for RNs to be able to practice to the full extent of our education and competency. There are many opportunities to get involved and stay updated by being a member.
-Jill Kliethermes MSN, RN, FNP-BC is Chief Executive Officer of Midwest Multistate and Division Leader at the Missouri Nurses Association.
- Ponder: Think about what you really want to do in nursing and follow your passion. Even if jobs are scarce in the area you want, keep working toward the goal.
- Prepare: Take classes in your area of interest; join the professional nursing organization; arrange informational interviews to find out more about that specialty; read current articles and books about the specialty.
- Prepare: Have an updated resume that highlights your skills and strengths. Put any language skills in a prominent location. Make sure everything is spelled correctly and formatted logically. Use nice, quality paper.
- Plan: Contact your current, professional references and have them ready on a typed sheet of paper with emails and phone numbers. Make sure your references agree to speak on your behalf.
- Appearance: Be on time for the interview, dress professionally, remove abundant piercings (nothing against them, but they can be off-putting). Have an extra copy of your resume, references, license etc. with you. Carry a portfolio with all of your documents. You will look organized and if you have to jot down some information you will look organized.
- Practice: Find interview questions on-line and practice with a friend or family member. You want to be prepared and confident. Make good eye contact. Research some of the job expectations in the field. If you want to be a school nurse, do not say that you hate teaching! School nurses teach in and out of the classroom all day.
I would encourage any nurse to make sure they are very familiar with the organization they are applying to. They should know the mission, vision, and values the organization has. To really stand out in an interview as a new grad nurse you should familiarize yourself with the core measures, service recovery models e.g. Quint Studer and quality methodologies. This puts you ahead of the curve for a new grad and it shows you have a working knowledge of key components of the healthcare industry.
-Edward Herrman RN, MBA/HCM, FACHE is President of Integris Bass Baptist Health Center and President of the Oklahoma Organization of Nurse Executives.
Mary Kay Bader
- Work in a hospital as a tech or secretary during school.
- Choose a senior internship in a center you might be interested in working.
- Get involved in a professional nursing organization in the field of interest.
- Get your BSN before graduating from your nursing program!
-Mary Kay Bader, CNS, MSN, RN, CCNS, CCRN, CNRN, SCRN, FAHA, FNCS.
James Fletcher Lawrence
Although I am an advanced practiced registered nurse in my clinical practice, I do teach undergraduate nursing students enrolled in their baccalaureate program. The “pearls of wisdom” that my students must endure from me include:
- Establish an ongoing relationship with 1 or 2 nursing faculty members even after the course they may have taught you by dropping by their office 2 to 3 times a semester and keeping them abreast of your grades, your progression, your clinical experiences. In so doing, that faculty member will play an integral role in writing you a recommendation as a graduate nurse seeking his/her first job.
- I make my nursing students in their very first semester bring in a copy of their resume. Fifty percent of them do not have one so I take them through the integral parts of a resume. As a former nurse recruiter, I tell and show them what separates an average resume from an outstanding resume. By showing this in their first semester, this allows them 3 to 4 semesters to build in some “meat” into their resume.
- Lastly, I plant a seed to the importance of interviewing and stress to all of my students that a good interview requires preparation, preparation, preparation. So 2 to 3 semesters later when they are panicking about an upcoming interview, I try to calm them down, get them focused, and usually meet them some place away from school and we practice, practice, practice. I also encourage my students in a traditional BSN curriculum to work the summer between their junior and senior years as a certified nursing assistant or apply to a nurse externship in a local hospital as both of these experiences provides advantages in the hiring of new graduate nurses.
-James Fletcher Lawrence, PhD, APRN, BC, CHPN, FAANP, CPS is the State President, United Advanced Practice Registered Nurses of Georgia.
My best advice is to create a professional portfolio that highlights work and life experience. As a new graduate RN, you can outshine the competition by separating yourself from the pack through professionalism. Dress should be business appropriate attire. Attitude should be positive and forward thinking. Do your homework and research the facility and position you are applying for. Make the interview team feel special by recognizing their accomplishments. So much is posted online now about hospitals and their work in the community. Demonstrate how YOU can bring added value to the team!
-Laura Gallagher, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN is President of the South Carolina Emergency Nurse Association State Council
School nursing is considered a specialty field of nursing. As such, we do not recommend anyone work as a school nurse until they have at least 3 years of experience in the field. School nurses must be prepared to function independently, have excellent assessment skills, organizational skills, and be good communicators. These skills are acquired over time with job experience – not in nursing school.
School nursing is a wonderful career for those who like practicing independently and the excitement of never knowing what will walk through the office door. People interested in going into school nursing should get as much experience as possible with pediatrics, community health, and emergency care. Any registered nurse may apply to work in a school. In Illinois, a nurse must also have school nurse certification to work with special education evaluations, an important function of school nursing. School nurse certification programs are graduate level programs, so a BS degree is required for entry. In general, I would encourage people interested in pursuing a career in nursing to do some work/volunteer work in a hospital to see what this profession is about.
With the trend towards only hiring BSNs, individuals going into nursing should give serious consideration to attending programs that lead them towards a BSN. These can be 2-year programs that have an agreement with a local university to continue on to get their BSN or starting at a 4-year college. For nursing students/recent graduates wanting to explore some of the many diverse settings where nurses work, I encourage arranging to spend a day shadowing a nurse in a setting they might be interested in.
-Linda Kimel, RN, BSN, MS, PEL-CSN is President of the Illinois Association of School Nurses.
The best advice for getting hired within the nursing field is not much different than getting hired in other fields. Tips for improving your chances of getting hired in nursing include:
- Have a strong resume. Possessing a strong academic record is important for new graduates. Having a proven work history is important for those with experience.
- Have a focus. Know what type of job you want, and where your skills will be best used. Know your strengths, and be ready to talk about them.
- Have a confident, respectful interview style. Your interviewer(s) want to hire someone who can work on a team, and this is often assessed during the interview. Nurses rarely work in isolation, so an open and intelligent communication style is an attribute.
- Prepare for your interview. Do your homework! Research the organization where you will be interviewing, and develop questions that reflect your interest in the organization. You will be interviewing your interviewers almost as much as they will be interviewing you. You want to make sure the job is a good fit for you and your potential employer.
- Be flexible. The healthcare arena is constantly changing, and job duties rarely remain stagnant over time. An open attitude and willingness to accept new duties within a changing organization will serve you well.
- Know how to leave a job. Nurses have numerous employment opportunities, and job changes are expected. When you decide to change jobs, be respectful of your employer. Give adequate notice, and provide a well-written letter of resignation. Leaving a job well will help you as you apply for other jobs down the road.
-Gwendolyn Short, DNP, MPH, ARNP is the Communication Liaison for the Minnesota Nurse Practitioners Association
Look for a unit that fits your lifestyle and schedule. Are you a morning or night person? Do you enjoy adrenalin rushes? Are you passionate about helping children or expectant families? Do you enjoy technological challenges? Are you looking for advancement or a flexible schedule? Do you have children and need holidays off? Can you take calls?
Speak to different people working on the unit/department and see if their mission and values align with your own. These steps will impress your potential boss during the interview, who is looking for employee excellence, satisfaction, and retention.
Bring good questions to the interview, such as: What is the 1-5 year goal(s) for this unit? What is your personal leadership style? What are the expectations of the various people working in this unit? Bring your passion and commitment, even if you are inexperienced. A life time learner is important in all nursing jobs.
-Kelly Grenham, RN, BSN, NCSN. President, Colorado Association of School Nurses
- Know everything you can about the hospital or hiring agency before you go to the interview. The Internet is a great resource for finding out this type of information. Examples include: number of beds in the hospital, private or for-profit, and areas of the hospital nationally recognized (surgery, cath labs, cancer treatment).
- Dress for the part for your interview. Sometimes scrubs are appropriate, but not all the time. A dress or pantsuit for women and a suit and tie for men.
- Put your cell phone away before going into the interview. In fact, do not even take it into the building with you.
- Show eagerness to learn during your interview. Ask questions about continuing education opportunities.
- Take extra copies of your resume with you to give to other people you are introduced to during your interview.
- Send a hand written thank you note to the interviewer the following day. A simple “Thank you for the opportunity to interview” goes a long way to make you stand out.
-Sonny Ruff, RN, FNP-C, DNP, CEN is a Chairperson of the Advanced Practice Committee, Mississippi Emergency Nurses Association
My advice for getting a nursing position is as follows:
- Choose a university that offers an accredited BSN nursing program. Many employers, including hospitals, are starting to require a bachelor’s degree for entry into the nursing profession. A BSN degree also provides a nurse with more diverse career opportunities.
- Be good at what you do by learning all you can about nursing, including the area of nursing that you are interested in working, and develop good clinical and critical thinking skills.
- While in school, seek experiences that enrich your nursing education, and experience and use these to create a working resume.
-Judi Yaworsky, RN is the Vice President of the Utah School Nurse Association
When nurses are looking to get into the field of school nursing, I and my colleagues tell them to make sure they have some hospital experience before taking a position as a school nurse. A certification program is strongly recommended as this will better prepare them to work in the educational setting. Start by subbing in the schools to see if this is really like school nursing before getting the certification.
-Cheryl Peiffer is the President of the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners
- Look at jobs in a variety of work settings. The preference for most new grads is to apply for a job in a hospital. There are also jobs available in a variety of community-based and clinic settings that are considered non-traditional settings but will provide an excellent entry point into your nursing career. Once you are experienced, it will be easier to find a job in your setting of preference. You just need to get your foot in the door.
- Nurses are lifelong learners. This learning starts in school and continues throughout your career. Take advantage of taking additional classes pertinent to your career such as EKG interpretation, IV therapy, and ACLS/NRP/PALS outside of your nursing school. These continuing education and certification options are excellent additions to your resume and demonstrate your interest in being well-educated, versatile, and a lifelong learner.
- Your school most likely has a career center. Check out the career center at your nursing program to learn more about resume writing and interviewing. Your resume provides an initial first impression to a future employer, so you want it to be as perfect as possible. If your program does not have a career center, a faculty member can help you with these skills. Make sure that you take advantage of all school resources available to you, to make your application stand out and shine.
- Get involved as a student in your state’s professional organization. This will not only be an amazing learning experience, it also gives you the opportunity to meet professionals in the field of nursing. Networking is a great resource for getting a job. Participating in a meaningful way in your state organization is also a great item to put on your resume.
- Volunteer or get involved in the area you want to work in. Again, this gives you contacts. It also gives you volunteer experience to put on your resume.
- Get extra tutoring if needed to improve your writing skills. Your writing is usually the first thing a hiring manager sees about you, by reading your resume. Misspelled words, sloppy sentence construction, and poor punctuation send the message that you do not pay attention to details, at best. At worst it may be viewed as a reflection of your communication skills or even your level of education. In every communication with others ensure you are taking the time to show well-educated writing skills.
- Take advantage of job fairs, recruiting dinners, etc. Sometimes it is necessary to take a job simply to build your resume. Any job is better than no job. Also take advantage of resume-writing sites which offer resume samples for different occupations. When you are looking for your first position as a nurse, you have to sell yourself. Be creative in the skills you list and job descriptions on your resume. Be sure your resume and cover letter exactly match the position you are applying for. And yes, this does mean editing both of them every time you send in a resume and cover letter.
-Roni Fox is the Treasurer of the Arizona Nurse Practitioner Council
Helpful Resources for Becoming a Nurse
The following resources can help you find additional information about becoming a nurse.
- Discover Nursing – Johnson & Johnson’s website providing nursing career and scholarship information.
- National Student Nurses Association – The NSNA provides opportunities for mentorship and professional development for future nurses.
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing – Links to each state’s Board of Nursing where you can find information about licensure requirements. This site also provides a summary of nursing license requirements for each state.
- American Nurses Association Career Center – Provides tips for job hunting, writing a nursing resume, and interviews.
- RN.com – Provides continuing education courses and job interview advice for recent graduates.
- VA Careers – VA is the largest employer of nurses in the country and the career center provides information on how to serve veterans as a nurse.
- Nurse.com – Search for nursing job openings and read nursing industry news.
- BLS Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates – Find the average salary and employment numbers in your area.
- Projections Central – Find the projected job growth for nurses in your state.
- Nursing Career Interviews – Read interviews with current nursing professionals and authors to learn about a nursing career.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-6
2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing: http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/FacultyShortageFS.pdf
3. The University of Southern Mississippi: http://www.usm.edu/undergraduate/nursing-bsn/how-become-nurse
4. Discover Nursing: https://www.discovernursing.com/starting-out#.Ux4ju_SwJL1