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Tips for Taking a Career in Nursing from Dream to Reality

  • August 25, 2022
  • 10 min read
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Tips for Taking a Career in Nursing from Dream to Reality

The pandemic of the past two years has illustrated the need for more nurses. Even in the middle of one of the worst healthcare crises, with being overworked and burnt out, many who entered the profession have decided nursing is still the only career for them. In fact, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reflect that as of April 2022 there are over three million nurses around the country.

However, while three million is a significant number of nurses, there is a shortage of qualified nurses, with experts predicting that over 70,000 nurses from the Baby Boomer generation will leave the profession each year until 2030. Not only is there a demand for more nurses, but the field is projected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, with the number of job openings expected to be approximately 194,500. Ultimately, this translates into opportunities for people looking to enter the field, and for those nurses already in the field to secure their dream job, but how?

Devising a plan of action

One way to guarantee that this desire to become a nurse or to advance in nursing comes to fruition is to plan. Part of planning is establishing goals and objectives for accomplishing these goals. A goal does not seem so insurmountable if broken down into smaller parts, so when making objectives, consider creating small, actionable steps that will help bridge the divide between the beginning of the journey and the huge career advance.

Fortunately, technology makes it possible to not only establish objectives but also to track goals. Digital tools such as Asana and Todoist are apps that help users track their goals. If entering a nursing program that leads to an advanced position, consider using either app to strategically plan goals and objectives. 

Educate and retrain

If entering the field, one has many pathways leading into nursing at various levels, even though most healthcare organizations prefer hiring registered nurses. If already a nurse and looking to advance into another position, consider earning more credentials or getting an advanced degree. A few of the most common certifications that nurses earn are Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), Basic Life Support (BLS), and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS). Other certifications to pursue are ones for strokes and IVs, in addition to specialty certifications such as for labor and delivery and neonatal intensive care unit.

Outside of obtaining additional certifications, nurses should consider earning an advanced degree in nursing. For instance, Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, has a doctor of nursing practice program, which leads to an administrative position related to leading patient care. Alternatively, a nurse does not have to complete an entire educational program, as continual education opportunities crop up and are a chance to bone up on rusty skills or learn new ones. 

Finally, experiential learning can be one of the best ways to acquire new skills. Nurses trying to enter a new area within the field can do this in one of a few ways. Participating in externships in another field provides the nurse with practice under the supervision of authorized medical personnel. Additionally, another route to landing an experiential learning opportunity is to volunteer. For example, a nurse transitioning into obstetrics might volunteer at Planned Parenthood or Nursing Mothers Council. 

Find mentors and build community

Community is also important when embarking on a new career or transitioning into another one. A community of health professionals provides the nurse with strong support, and meeting healthcare practitioners from diverse backgrounds opens new possibilities for a nursing career. This support network can play an integral role in helping a nurse get through the more challenging parts of the profession, especially when some people in this community come from the same specialty to which the nursing professional aspires. 

Within this network, consider seeking out mentors. Some healthcare professionals assign new nurses with a mentor, making it possible for them to build relationships within the medical community. Mentors help their charges build vital skills, and more importantly, build communication, decision-making, and organizational skills — soft skills needed to advance in any field. 

Finally, also consider joining nursing organizations. These organizations provide additional support and resources for reaching out to other professionals and finding mentors. An added benefit of nursing organizations is that they can be a way to get a sense of what job opportunities are available. 

Searching for that dream job

A community that includes mentors can be a main resource for finding the ideal job within nursing. This community and any mentoring the nurse receives provides them with both the tools to advance in the field and the soft skills to get in the door of that dream job. These tools help with the job search, but professionals must also take inventory of their preferences. 

In finding the right fit, consider factors such as job environment. For example, nurses can find themselves working in the traditional hospital setting, a nursing home, or medical practice. Take a minute to think about the ideal work environment, even writing down the pros and cons and comparing them to personal preferences. Once decided, nurses on the move must engage in a job search that meets their qualifications, requirements, and work experience. 

Finally, a job search does not have to be completed alone. Look into local career centers as resources for getting a new job in searching. Career centers can be found in the community, and in some cases on college campuses, nursing programs, or universities. Here, a career counselor can help with not only drafting a plan of action but also the job search and preparing for the interview.

Preparing a resume 

Using a career center as a tool for finding a job in nursing is not a bad idea, considering counselors at the center can also help with preparing a resume and cover letter. This document should reflect the updated history of the nurse’s professional work experience and industry-related skills. The resume should list all the positions one has had, listing the most recent first. For nurses who have a few positions, consider focusing on skills, professional experiences, and professional associations. 

An additional tip to writing an awesome resume is to customize it to the healthcare program with which one plans to work. In this version of the resume, the nurse should only include work and volunteer experiences and skills relevant to the specific job duties of the position for which they apply. This tactic is one strategy for standing out from the crowd of competitors. 

The resume should be printed on standard 8.5x11in quality paper. A resume is a written explanation of the nurse’s experience and skills, and for this reason, one should avoid decorative paper that contains borders and other designs. While today is the digital age, and it is not necessary to have hard copies of documents, carrying a hard copy to the interview is always advised. 

At the same time, because interviewers read several resumes during the hiring process, it is essential to only include information relevant to professional skills. Avoid including a photo or listing information regarding any hobbies a person might have. Also, it is important to not divulge family information or marital status. While this information reflects that the nurse may be a well-rounded human being, it is not necessarily relevant to them being a good nurse. 

The nurse should carry a copy of his/her cover letter, which is another document that can be drafted and reviewed at a career center. The cover letter is important because, in many cases, it can be the deciding factor when interviewing for a job. When writing a cover letter, knowing the name of the prospective employers is better than simply writing “to whom it may concern” in the salutation section of the cover letter. 

Another way to grab the interviewer’s attention is to reflect familiarity with the organization. This familiarity can be expressed by including information about the organization in the letter. Anecdotes about prior nursing experiences and skills that parallel the prospective job duties are a great way to convey interest in working for the nursing organization and show why they might be a good fit for the organization. Finally, regardless of how the application process concludes, always thank the hiring committee and interviewers for their time. 

Preparing for the interview

Great news! Your dream job just called for an interview, so how do you prepare? Before the interview, one good practice is to become familiar with the resume (without sounding rehearsed). It is also important to anticipate any questions the interviewers might have. Below are common questions that nurses are asked when interviewing for a position in a healthcare setting.

  • What is the most challenging part of nursing?
  • Are you more comfortable with working in teams or independently?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you respond to a patient who constantly complains about pain?
  • How do you see yourself in five years?
  • Finally, and most importantly, why do you want to work for us in this position?

While it is impossible to determine what interviewers might ask, the abovementioned questions are a baseline for what might be a part of the interview. A good plan of action is to take time out to prepare to answer some of these questions. With nervousness and all the other things that can clutter the mind during the interview, it is best to be prepared to answer questions that are likely to pop up during the interview. 

At the same time, ask questions as well. Before the interview, questions present the nurse with the chance to learn more about the work environment. For example, this is the opportunity to get information about job culture, job responsibilities, and more significantly, overtime compensation. 

First impressions do make an impression, so the wardrobe is very important. Conventional wisdom is to try to wear clothes that are both comfortable and business formal. Ultimately, while clothes do not reflect skill or experience, they do reflect a certain professionalism, a characteristic that is important in landing any position. 

If time permits, visit the organization’s building before sitting for the interview. This is an opportunity to find the place if traveling some distance or unfamiliar with the area. Also, this prevents the interviewee from appearing unprepared by asking a question that might have been answered had they visited beforehand. 

Final words

Nursing offers professionals many pathways to a rewarding and lucrative career. Setting goals is a part of any career plan and is important because it helps the nurse create concrete strategies for their professional life. Furthermore, setting goals and creating strategies to accomplish those goals make landing a dream job achievable. 

Whether at the beginning of a career or transitioning into a new position, nursing professionals have resources at every stage to move into an ideal position. Building a community comprised of mentors is important in determining which direction to go. At the same time, career resources are available in the community and academic institutions, resources that can not only help in the job search but also with putting important documents together — documents central to landing the dream job. 

All this prep work pays off after the nurse lands the interview. Preparation is key in creating the energy conducive to convincing hiring committees of your commitment to nursing and that your professional experience matches their needs. From putting together and writing an engaging cover letter, this process provides the prospective new hire with time to reflect on their own career aspirations and find a way to convey these ideas to their new employer. 

The day of the interview is the culmination of all this preparation and hard work. Dress to impress, ask questions, and show interviewers you know your stuff. This is the opportunity to show that while competition is tough, you are head and shoulders above the rest.