It’s time for the reality check. America is in a recession and nursing jobs are fewer while competition is greater. It takes even more hustle, dedication and tenacity to land a job today than it did for your parents.
Having a degree isn’t always enough and, sorry to break it to you, you aren’t likely to get your dream job right out of nursing school. While that may be disappointing, it also allows you to clarify your expectations and set realistic goals. Here are five things you’ll need to give up – or compromises you’ll have to make – to land your first entry-level nursing job. If you follow our advice and keep on building your professional credentials, you’ll be able to more effectively network, interview, and succeed in the job you are eventually offered.
It’s called the dream job for a reason. That reason is that while it does exist, you’re going to have a hard time finding it, let alone landing it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have aspirations or that you shouldn’t constantly strive for bigger and better things. It does mean, however, that most of you will not be working at Cedars-Sinai anytime soon. Unless you are going to a top-tier nursing school, acting as student body president, volunteering full-time at a local hospital and coming up with an innovative way to revolutionize patient care, chances of landing your dream job at your dream hospital are slim. Are there exceptions? Sure. But understand that graduating from your college with a 3.0 G.P.A isn’t exactly a ticket into the most competitive nursing jobs in the nation.
The Good News:
Just because you didn’t get a 4.0 doesn’t mean you are damned to an eternity of unemployment. It just means you still need to prove yourself. Instead of lamenting your misfortune, pursue a nursing job that will give you the practical skills and experience you need to will make you a prime candidate for your dream job. Intelligence, creativity, empathy, and exceptional patient care are skills that never go out of style. Work hard and get promoted. Who knows–maybe in five years you’ll have developed just the skill-set that they will be looking for in 2015.
You Aren’t Owed Anything.
“But I was in Golden Key. But I was the treasurer of SAE. But I always got As. But I got accepted to every place I applied. But I was voted “most likely to succeed.” But my professors all love me. But my Dad is the mayor…”
That is excellent news. Unfortunately, so were thousands and thousands of other recent grads. If there are only X amount of nursing jobs and there are five, 10 or 200 qualified people applying for each one of them, not everyone is going to be hired. Competition from your classmates isn’t your only concern. You don’t have to be an economist to know that you are up against a national job market with overly qualified nurses applying for entry-level positions because of mass layoffs.
The Good News:
By recognizing this reality, you will be less likely to passively wait for what you think you “deserve.” Instead, by realizing that you need to stand out in a crowded field of people just as qualified or more qualified than you, it will make it easier to focus on things you can do to compete. Things like beefing up your nursing resume with internships and volunteering experiences. Things like getting new skills and staying up-to-date on the latest medical technologies. This opportunity may also be a great time to go back to nursing school for that master’s or PhD!
Money Matters, but It Isn’t Everything.
Nursing salaries vary widely, depending on the place, education, and specialty you are working in. Some of you will earn considerably more and others considerably less, that’s to be expected when you consider cost of living and other factors. When you entered nursing school you may have had dreams of being the next Florence Nightingale, but reality doesn’t always match up. More people are entering nursing now than ever before, which means that the nursing degree isn’t as valuable as it once was. What used to set you apart with a BSN may now require a master’s degree or other professional degree.
The Good News:
At this point, if you are lucky enough to be offered a position and the money is enough to cover your bills and, more importantly, it starts you on a nursing career path towards your long-term goals, then take it. You need experience and professional skills more than you need big paychecks right now. Work hard, learn a lot, challenge yourself, grow in your experience and the money will come later.
Free Time? What’s That?
Somebody really should have told you this before, but you probably won’t be getting a three-month respite from work, or that two-week winter break, or even weekends. Nursing is a 24-hour business; after all, do hospitals close during the holidays? Or ever? When you do get your entry-level nursing job, you will be surprised at how little free time you have, and how many shifts you’ll be working! Hanging out with friends, going to the pool, or even running errands during the day are things of the past. Expect to be working during Thanksgiving, especially if you’re a newbie, and/or pulling the midnight shift at New Year’s. You will not be getting a spring break. You will, however, be much more excited by your time off and really cherish your occasional three-day weekends. As the lowly nurse on the totem pole, you will probably only have between five and 10 days of vacation to take all year. This can come as a shock to your newly matriculated system, but don’t worry–you’ll adapt quickly.
The Good News:
When you do take time off for a much-needed vacation, you’ll really enjoy it! You may sleep days and work nights, but at least you’ll get to spend time with your children when many parents resort to daycare. The flexible schedule in nursing can be a blessing if you’ll let it be.
Head Nurse Status… if You’re Lucky
You may have been the president of your fraternity. You may have been a fearless leader amongst your admiring friends. You may have been many things. You may even have exemplary leadership qualities. That still doesn’t mean that you’re going to walk off the graduation stage and take your rightful place as the head of your nursing staff. If you are smart, resourceful, and a quick learner, then you may indeed someday grow into that leadership position. You will not, however, be starting out in charge. In fact you will be much, much closer to the opposite of in charge. You’ll have to empty bedpans, work the 2am shift, work through tedious paperwork, and basically pay your dues as a new nurse along with many other unsavory things as you start off in your first year of full-time employment.
The Good News:
This isn’t forever. Remember when you were a new nursing student on rotation and everyone else had so much more experience and clout than you? The same thing will happen here. After a year or two you will be a pro and you’ll be able to watch from your lofty perch as the new kid on the block replaces you as the resident newbie. This doesn’t mean that you’ll go from entry-level to head nurse anytime soon, but it does mean that you can see the career ladder ahead of you and will have already gleaned an understanding on how to ascend that ladder.