Making the transition from nursing student to new grad RN is one of the most intense, nerve-wracking and amazing experiences you’ll ever have. Even though you’re excited, you’re likely also a little bit terrified. These tips for new grad nurses will help you ease into your new role like a pro.

Before you graduate nursing school

While you’re still in school and have easy access to school-type things, make your nursing portfolio. Note this isn’t something that everyone does….and it may be over-the-top, but if you are in a very competitive market for new grad RN jobs, you will want to stand out in any way possible. The portfolio is basically an expanded look at your skills and accomplishments. Read my post about the nursing portfolio here.

Before you have your license

Check to see if you are in a state that grants an “Interim Permit.” California is one and there may be a few others, though I hear it is not all that common anymore. An IP enables you to get a job as a new grad BEFORE you pass your NCLEX. Granted, not all hospitals hire IP nurses, but sometimes you’ll see jobs available. The stickler with going this route, is that if you get a job with your IP, then fail NCLEX, you lose your job. Personally, I didn’t want to have that level of stress hanging over me, so I just waited until after I was licensed to go gang-busters on the ol’ job hunt.

Prepare for the NCLEX

The first huge hurdle after you graduate is, of course, taking and passing your NCLEX. Give yourself at least a month or two to study and, most importantly, RELAX and decompress after the marathon sprint you’ve been on the past few years. Set aside time each day to study and then spend the rest of the time getting your life back. How to study, you ask? Some people swear by review courses, others simply do loads of NCLEX practice questions. Whatever route you choose, make it a priority, but don’t make it your whole life. Balance is key and you can’t rock your NCLEX if you’re an exhausted stress ball of stress.

Find your first nursing job

Once you’ve got your license, you’ll be able to apply to the hordes of “new-grad” positions…ha. I wish there was a sarcasm emoticon because it some areas, the job market is fierce as heck. Plan to surf the job boards every single day as postings can occur at any time. Map out which hospitals you want to work at and check their online postings in addition to stalking the big job boards such as Monster, Zip Recruiter and Craigslist. Any job available to a new grad will be labeled as such. These are special positions that usually have extended training. If you can spot a residency program, these typically have even more extensive training with additional support for up to the first year. When I applied for my position through the new-grad residency program at my hospital, there were 5,000 other applicants….so standing out from the crowd is a necessity.

It goes without saying that you absolutely need to create a professional looking resume. There are about a million “how to write a killer resume” websites out there, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. Take the time to proofread  your resume as many hiring managers will automatically toss any that include typos as this shows a lack of attention to detail (something nurses need to have by the bushel).

Since you likely won’t have much nursing experience to list on your resume, include prior jobs with an emphasis on:

  • Time management
  • Delegation
  • Customer service
  • Prioritizing
  • Working under pressure
  • Analysis
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Assessment
  • Organization

Next, work your network. If you know ANYONE at all who works ANYWHERE with a job opening, reach out, ask for recommendations and introductions. If you’re volunteering at a hospital, make sure the hiring managers you come into contact with know you’re on the hunt. When you do manage to get an interview, show up prepared (start here with these 20 questions) and consider bringing along a nursing portfolio (check it out here). A portfolio can help you stand out from the crowd, show your dedication and provide a way for an employer to remember you after the interview is over.

Starting your first nursing job

Making the transition from student to RN is intense, as  you can see here. As a student, you only see about 25% of what a bedside RN does during any given shift. Hopefully your employer will provide extensive training for new grads, meaning you’ll work one-on-one with another RN for the first six to 24 weeks, depending on what unit you’re working on. Most Med/Surg floors are six to 12 weeks, while critical care training can be up to six months. A few tips for this critical transition period:

  • Ask tons of questions. This is not the time to be the “I know everything” new nurse. You know nothing. Learn from your coworkers.
  • Pace yourself. While it can be tempting to take the hardest cases from the very beginning, start with the very basics and work your way up…you’ll learn more and fare better overall.
  • See and do as much as you can. If you know someone’s getting a chest tube placed, get over there and assist. Coworker need a hand? Offer to help. You never know what you’ll learn.
  • Study study study. If you thought your days of studying were over, you were sadly mistaken. Your learning is only just beginning. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
  • Develop consistent routines to help you remember the eight million things you must do in any given shift. Having a routine makes it less likely that you’ll forget something. I write a little bit about that here.
  • Use or create a brain sheet that works. A brain sheet is where you will keep notes on your patient throughout your shift so that you can give a kick-booty end-of-shift report. Thinking you can “remember” everything you need is a recipe for disaster. You’ll see some nurses who think they’re being really cool by giving report off the top of their head…very few nurses can do this well and the chance that you’ll miss something is enormous. Don’t be proud. Write it down.
  • Do not EVER use the phrase, “that’s not how we did it in school.” You’ll come across as a know-it-all and that’s never a good thing. It also makes you sound like someone who isn’t open to learning new things. And it’s kind of a jerk move. If you see someone doing something in a way that differs from what you’re used to, it’s important to understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Nurses are incredibly resourceful and are great at coming up with ways to get things done better, faster, more efficiently. Keep your eyes open and you’ll pick up all kinds of great tips.

Last but not least

Take care of yourself. While it can be super tempting to work extra hours (cha-ching), it’s more important to enjoy your days off.  Nursing is incredibly exhausting, emotionally draining and unbelievably stressful. If you don’t take time for you, you won’t have anything left to give your patients. And, as always, be safe out there!

Get this on audio in Podcast Episode 104.


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