Being a nurse requires dedication to providing care and a sizable sense of compassion. For many, these and similar qualities are starting points for a nursing career, but the path that follows can sometimes seem long and intimidating. In addition to a passion for care, the nursing profession requires highly skilled individuals trained by professionals in demanding programs. Acquiring the proper skills to become an excellent nurse often begins with success in the classroom.
The journey from nursing school to the nursing profession can be daunting and difficult, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. There are many things one can do – and habits one can form – to get ahead as a student and stay ahead through graduation.
Beginning the Journey as a Student Nurse
For young, full-time nursing students and second-career student nurses alike, financing education is often a source of undue stress and can distract the focus away from a student’s studies. One source of relief for many students is the scholarship. There are countless scholarships available for aspiring nurses, but finding the right ones and winning the awards can certainly be a challenge.
In addition to financing, nursing school presents several unique challenges for many students.
“Nursing school isn’t the kind of training that students get through with just 12 hours a week of class,” said Kathy McCauley, Ph.D., RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN, FAHA, associate dean for academic programs at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia. “The student nurse has a very demanding schedule.”
These demands can be tough on new students who haven’t yet learned effective time management skills, and it also presents obvious obstacles for students who might be returning to school after starting a family or working other careers.
“There are many routes to becoming a nurse for people of different walks of life,” said McCauley. “No matter your situation, learning to manage your time will be one of the best things you can do to be successful, and that needs to come along with a large dose of maturity.”
According to McCauley, maturity is not only an important attribute for student nurses – it is required.
“Particularly for individuals right out of high school, we really force our nursing students to grow up a lot faster than most,” said McCauley. “It is easy for patients older than their caregiver to focus on their caregiver’s age, often thinking ‘this person is young enough to be my great grandchild!’ Student nurses need to convey high levels of professionalism and maturity to show that they are serious and focused in the care they are providing to every patient.”
Expanding the Journey Beyond the Classroom
Any successful student nurse will need to perform in the academic setting, earning solid grades and performing well in clinical settings. In addition, there are major advantages to taking part in the right activities outside the classroom, and being an active student will be a major boost when the time comes to begin looking for a job.
Student nursing organizations offer the opportunity to network with other active students, as well as experienced professionals and brilliant faculty from across the country. The National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA) is the country’s largest organization for nursing students. Their mission is to mentor student nurses, preparing them for initial licensure as registered nurses and conveying the standards, ethics and skills students will need as leaders in the profession.
“New graduates entering the nursing profession are faced with a complex and challenging healthcare, political and economic environment,” said Diane Mancino, Ed.D., RN, CAE, FAAN, executive director of NSNA. “Preparation to practice in a whole new world of healthcare requires skills that are not necessarily taught in nursing school, and that is where the NSNA can help. For example, NSNA members have leadership opportunities that prepare them for their future practice.”
NSNA provides its members the opportunities to participate in shared governance in the practice setting; to take on leadership responsibilities; to engage in policy development and decision making; and to know how to manage their time in order to provide the best possible patient care.
Continuing the Journey Towards A Career
Nursing school can certainly be challenging, but the path doesn’t end after graduation. Now the time has come to begin the search for a job, and the first place to start is with the resumé. A recent graduate’s resumé should be concise and tailored specifically to the job being applied for. It should also be free from grammatical errors and presented with a cover letter.
Once a resumé has attracted the attention of potential employers, nurses should focus on how they present themselves during the interview process.
“An important technique for new nurses to learn is behavioral interviewing,” said Patricia D’Aurizio, RN, MPA, partner at KRP Associates, Workforce Consulting Services. “What behavioral interviewing simply means is that you don’t want to respond to questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because it doesn’t tell the interviewer much about you. Instead, answer questions with details about yourself and your experiences.”
According to ADVANCE for Nurses, healthcare facilities have been increasingly depending on behavioral interviewing for nurses at all levels to better predict a candidate’s future performance. For example, when asked if they have experience during a specific type of surgery, candidates should answer the question by describing their role during surgery. Giving an employer detailed information will show that the individual understands the subject matter, and will provide insight into experiences important to the job.
What kinds of qualities do hiring managers look for in recent graduates? According to Terry Bennett, RN, BSN, CHCR, director of nurse recruitment at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and president of the National Association for Health Care Recruiters (NAHCR), there are a lot of factors that contribute to the process.
“What I look for is more than just someone with a good work history – we want people that really display a passion for the job itself,” said Bennett.
When applying for a job, nurses need to convince the employer that they are not looking for just any nursing job. Applicants should convey that they are seeking the job being interviewed for specifically. They should speak to relevant experiences that make them best suited for the position, and communicate with energy and excitement.
Additionally, managers want to hire candidates who have gained relevant work experience during college.
“Nursing students in particular have great opportunities for hands-on work while they are in school,” said Bennett. “Having those types of experiences is a real plus to employers.”
Becoming a nurse has never been an easy task, and there are many challenges and obstacles along the way. Getting and staying ahead in school will prove to be invaluable after graduation. Joining an organization like NSNA will provide student nurses with leadership opportunities that employers will recognize. Passionately telling one’s story through a compelling resumé and job interview will take a new nurse just as far.
As one of the most respected professions, nursing requires individuals to work hard in learning the invaluable skills necessary to provide proper patient care. Upon graduation, these individuals will join the ranks of millions who have taken their own journeys in becoming a nurse. It isn’t always easy, but the road to a fulfilling career can be smoother with just a bit of planning and thoughtfulness along the way.
For more information on joining NSNA, visit www.nsna.org. To find scholarship opportunities available in your state, visit www.discovernursing.com.