Nursing is a fast-growing field with many job opportunities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With much of the country looking at months to years of recovery ahead, there’s never been a more urgent and relevant time to pursue such a demanding but rewarding career.
Here’s what you need to know about getting hired in the nursing industry.
What Do Nurses Do?
Registered nurses (RNs) have the responsibility of providing and overseeing direct patient care in various healthcare facilities, from doctors’ offices to hospitals. The nursing field is varied, and nurses can be found in many careers that you might not commonly think of as being a place to work as a nurse. However, many of the most common nursing jobs share many of the same responsibilities:
- Physically examining patients and charting any findings
- Recording detailed medical histories
- Listening to patients and determining their physical and emotional needs
- Educating or counseling patients and their family members
- Coordinating care with other health care providers
- Keeping up with advances in health care
- Drawing blood or other samples and performing health-related testing
- Checking vital signs
- Administering medications
- Monitoring medical equipment
- Reviewing charts to make sure patients are getting the care they need
- Acting as an advocate for patients
Most nurses specialize in a particular field straight out of university, like surgeries or labor and delivery. Each nursing specialty has its own unique requirements and duties associated with their position.
Who Hires Nurses?
Nurses can work in a variety of settings and in many different capacities. Some organizations and facilities that commonly hire nurses include:
- Clinics and urgent care centers
- Private medical practices
- Charter or public schools
- Doctors’ offices
- Blood and plasma donation centers
- Home health care settings
- Senior living communities
- Health insurance companies
- Law firms (for malpractice suits)
The prerequisites for employment will vary depending on where you want to work and what nursing specialty you choose. While some facilities are willing to accept new graduates, others need nurses with several years of experience or proven knowledge in a particular field. For instance, nurses who work in the surgical specialty need to have an expert knowledge of human anatomy and physiology.
Getting Hired in the Nursing Industry
The nursing field is expanding rapidly, and the demand for RNs is high. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that employment for RNs is projected to grow 12% by 2028, a rate considered much faster than average.
If you’re looking to become an RN, you’ll need to first complete an appropriate nursing degree program. The degree you choose to pursue, either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, depends on your goals in the field.
But because nursing is a competitive industry, a bachelor’s degree or higher gives you an often necessary advantage to get the jobs you want. While most programs take the normal fall and spring semesters in three-semester schools, some universities often accelerated programs where you can go to school throughout the year to graduate sooner.
Once you’ve finished a program, you’ll have to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The test averages about 119 questions with up to six hours of allotted time for test-takers, and although you can take it more than once if you fail, you’ll need to pay the testing fee each time. Once you’ve passed the test, you can go through your state’s licensing board to apply for your RN license.
With the right credentials and experience, you can choose to work in different specializations. Some, like nurse anesthesiologist or nurse practitioner, will require you to go through more advanced licensure programs and continued education. These programs are master’s degrees or doctorate degrees, so if you think you want to specialize like this, you’ll definitely need to plan for that bachelor’s degree.
Once you have a license at any level, you’ll want to keep it active. The requirements to renew your nursing license vary based on the state. Some specializations will require you to work as a nurse in a specific setting for a certain number of hours each year. Others require you to complete continuing education hours. While your licensing organizations will send you a reminder to renew your license when the time comes, it’s up to you to make sure you qualify.
Job Interview Tips for Nurses
Just like any other field, aspiring nurses have to go through an interview process to get hired. And just like any other field, your first impression can make or break your chances at landing the job. Nursing is a very people-oriented profession, so you’ll want to put your best self forward. Here are some general tips to help you impress your potential employers:
- Dress the part. Like you would for any other job interview, dress appropriately in professional attire and make sure you are well-groomed. Professional attire could mean a dress, a skirt and blouse, a suit, or a nice pair of slacks and button up shirt. What you wear should be comfortable and shouldn’t be a distraction to you or the interviewer.
- Be humble, but eager. New nurses should understand that they still have a lot to learn. After all, education is only part of the learning process; most of the learning comes from hands-on experience and training. Make sure you remain humble and express your eagerness to learn and grow.
- Come prepared. Research common questions in nursing interviews and try to prepare thoughtful, well-considered responses. If you have them, use personal experiences from your own life from previous jobs or school as examples in your answers to emphasize your abilities.
- Ask the right questions. As an up-and-coming nurse, you likely have questions and concerns related to the industry and the facility to which you are applying. Don’t be afraid to ask, but be professional and clear in your responses. Just like the interviewer, you are testing out if a working relationship would be good for both of you.
- Send a thank you note. Reaching out after your interview to extend your appreciation is a great way to keep your name fresh in their minds. Most interviewers will see several different nurses, sometimes one after another, or you’ll be in an interview with other potential applicants, and you’ll want to stand out.
Your First Nursing Job
When you first land a position, you might feel intimidated. There will be lots of new skills and policies to learn in addition to the normal job jitters, and it might feel like you forgot everything you learned in school. However, as a new nurse, you’ll normally have access to one-on-one guidance and support from a trainer or mentor, especially in a hospital setting.
“When you first graduate, you’re put with a preceptor for at least a few weeks,” said Nancy Caramela, CMSRN, BSN at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “You shadow them and watch everything they do, and they show procedures and policies of the particular facility.”
Eventually, you’ll get your own assignments, and the shadowing will be reversed. In other words, your preceptor will watch you do the job and make sure you can handle it on your own. This is the perfect opportunity to test yourself and your skills and knowledge to make sure that you have the confidence needed to do the job.
Even when the shadowing is over and you no longer need a preceptor by your side, you’ll still have charge nurses, fellow nurses, and resources on other floors or around the hospital for support.
“Nursing in general is a big support,” Caramela told Clipboard Health. “You’re never really on your own. It’s like a team effort.”
Tips for Aspiring Nurses
The nursing field is not for the faint of heart. While mistakes happen in every job setting, in the health care field, they can be serious and even deadly. Caramela advised aspiring nurses to reach out to colleagues if you’re unsure of a decision or feeling overwhelmed.
“Never be afraid to ask questions,” said Caramela. “All it takes is one little, ‘Can you help me? I’m having a hard time today.'”
Even with the help of other nurses, things can — and do — go wrong. But remember, you’re only human. Rather than shaming yourself into feeling like a failure when you mess up, Caramela added, simply learn from it and move on.
Finally, Caramela reminded nurses that empathy will help you be your patient’s advocate, a nurse’s most important responsibility. You need to support your patient emotionally just as much as physically. Often, you are seeing patients at the lowest or most stressful times of their lives.
“You can’t change a person’s personality,” said Caramela. “Half of nursing is the emotional support you give patients. Don’t ever think it’s a weakness to sit and cry with a patient.”
Ready to find your next nursing job? Search for per-diem shifts on Clipboard Health.