New Graduate Nurses: Make Your Career What You Want It to Be

By: Juliet Wilkinson

The ink isn’t dry on your nursing license and already you’ve had your first epiphany as an RN--“People are looking to me for answers now.” Simulation labs, nursing theories and hours of didactics won’t prepare you for the first time one of your patients yanks off their IV and gown and wanders into the hall at 2 a.m. naked.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses held 2.7 million jobs in the United States as of 2010. Whether you’re still waiting for your license in the mail or working as a novice in the field, getting a position is only half of the battle. To enjoy fulfillment in your career and avoid the ever-increasing ranks of “burnout” nurses, try the advice of those who have gone before you, including these simple tips:

Embrace your mentor 

Regardless of the degree awarded, nursing school provides a basic structure for practice. You learn hands-on technique and theory, but it cannot replace actual, bedside experience. Tina Smith, RN, CHPN, a nurse of 27 years who has mentored many hospice RNs, encourages new graduates to build on that framework by identifying a mentor early on.

“Find the nurse who is willing to teach and learn from them,” said Smith, a home care nurse for Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson, Md., who previously served as the associate clinical director for Gilchrist’s home division.

Respect the power of your license 

All nursing programs provide an introduction to the professional roles and responsibilities affiliated with licensure, but they can’t force you stay current and read state laws after graduation.

The legislation surrounding nursing practice is there for a reason--to protect you while providing safe, evidence-based nursing care. Failure to comply with state licensure laws, such as providing care outside your role of a nurse, can lead to loss of licensure, law suits and even prison time.

Welcome opportunities 

Welcome opportunities, even if they don’t pertain to your chosen career field. One of my many mentors, Sandi Dannunzio, RN, works in the cardiac catheterization laboratory at St. Joseph’s Mercy of Macomb in Michigan. She reflects upon her decades of nursing experience and work as a mentor, and thinks about how she would now advise new grads. “It never hurts to be too educated. Take advantage of every educational opportunity, even if it seems irrelevant now,” Dannunzio said.

Keep learning 

Once upon a time, RN diploma schools were the golden standard for nursing education. These hospital-based training programs now only turn out 20 percent of registered nurses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) “Findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey.” The majority of nurses enter the field with an associate of science degree (45 percent), followed closely by bachelor’s-prepared nurses (34 percent), per the DHHS.

But more and more employers are looking for nurses with their BSNs, so take the opportunity to get yours, when possible. “You never know when you’re going to want a change or miss a great opportunity because you didn’t reach for that degree.” said Dannunzio.

Furthermore, if you desire more initials behind your name in the form of professional credentialing, you might need a bachelor’s degree. Over this last decade, many of the prestigious specialty certifications, such as the Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) or the National Certified School Nurse (NCSN), require a bachelor’s degree for exam eligibility.

Apply evidence-based skills 

“As a student, you’re trying to learn new techniques in simulation labs and please the instructor--or make the grade. As a new nurse, you may be trying to please the charge nurse or manager. You have to find your own happy medium and not get paralyzed by mistakes,” Smith stated. “Understand that the best action to take is always rooted in evidence-based practice. As you gain experience, you’ll appreciate the driving forces behind nursing practice regulation and learn how to rely on your own intuition.”


Join professional organizations, such as the American Nurses Association or your own specialty organization, to network with peers, keep abreast of emerging nursing issues and even make a difference in the nursing field through legislation. Likewise, if you have the opportunity to affiliate yourself with academic nursing affiliations, such as the Honor Society for Nurses, take advantage.

Don’t miss out on life 

“You’re never going to look back on life and wish you’d worked more. Don’t place your career over your family--you never get back time with your children after they’re grown or your family once they are gone,” Dannunzio warns. With the myriad opportunities available in nursing, you can seek a position that complements your familial goals as well as your professional ones.

© 2013. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 


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