Getting (and Keeping) Your First Nursing Job

If you are already pursuing or preparing to graduate with a degree in nursing, you’re likely quite familiar with the much-publicized nursing shortage looming on the horizon across the U.S.

While the aging Baby Boomer population presents some very real challenges in healthcare—and great opportunities for nurses like you—it is important to keep in mind that the projected shortages are going to phase in over the next decade. As a nurse, you may expect long-term job security, but starting out in the short-term, it can actually be tough to get a job in nursing.

So what can you do to put your nursing skills to work now, rather than 10 years from now?

Ready, Set, Tech

Modern healthcare is, in many ways, at the forefront of technology, yet an astounding number of hospitals and especially small medical practices across the country have yet to transition from paper record-keeping to electronic. Everything from billing, to patient profiles, to treatment charts are stilling being recorded and shared manually through pen and paper. This has a predictably hazardous impact on patient outcomes.

Enter Healthcare Informatics—a new area of study training professionals to bring healthcare fully into the 21st century. Even if you aren't getting your degree in informatics, you can turn them toward your advantage in the job search.

One is Silver, the Other Gold

Keep in mind that when trying to land your first nursing job, you aren’t just competing with your fellow graduates—you are being compared with seasoned nurses, the very sort of Baby Boomers you are hoping to care for, who have years of experience in their jobs. All too often in the current economy, these Boomer Nurses are opting not to retire, instead holding their positions well into their “Golden Years” and making it harder for you to get your start.

This is where your tech-savvy becomes invaluable. Those Boomer Nurses may have “seen it all” when it comes to patient care, but integrating that experience with new ways of communicating and documenting that care leaves many of them baffled—providing you with a new way to stand out. Your lack of experience doubles as a lack of old habits and resistance to the new technology of informatics. Be sure to demonstrate that you are on the cutting edge.

Bedside Manner

You may be an ace at blending empathy with treatment, putting patients at ease and putting a human face on the hospital system, but informatics systems present a new challenge you need to be prepared for. After your patient has his prescription, for example, can you explain how he can use his smartphone to quickly recall side-effects, get instant refills, and get questions answered without having to schedule a follow-up?

In many respects, becoming versed in the tech of healthcare isn't just a matter of being competitive; it is a new, basic qualification. So not only must you get comfortable with laptops and smartphones at work, you must learn how to explain them to everyone from 18 year-olds to 80 year-olds. This is a skill that will not only get you hired, but make you indispensable at any facility.

Ahead of the Curve

Because hospitals are often struggling to take all their systems to the next level, they usually like to advertise what they do have that sets them apart. After all, when choosing where to have a baby, a pregnant mother is likely to choose the hospital that advertises its state-of-the-art systems over the one that hasn’t updated since the 80’s.

So when you are applying for a job, consider familiarizing yourself with the new informatics applications being used at the hospital. Even if you haven’t trained on a particular system, just knowing which one is utilized there can easily set you apart from a field of candidates. Many systems have a unique vocabulary to distinguish elements like Check-In from Outpatient and Pharmacy—get familiar with these, and you will be one step ahead of another applicant who hasn’t done the (very simple) research.

Turn and Face the Change

The old cliché that “attitude is everything” can become invaluable currency for you as you look for your first job out of school. All too often, the most experienced nurses (and even more often, doctors) get too comfortable with the old way of doing things, and refuse to embrace the high-tech changes popping up in their field.

As silly as it may seem, simply being enthusiastic and positive about Informatics can make you attractive as a new applicant. Hospital directors, IT departments, and HR reps all grow weary of the constant complaints from nurses and doctors that the new system is complicated, not as good as the old way, or just plain stupid.

If you show up not just happy to learn the new system, but even remotely familiar with its design and functions, you may well seem a gift from heaven. Just remember: attitude may be everything, but it won’t hurt to actually know at least a few things about the system you are cheerfully embracing. Do your homework ahead of the interview so you can be positive and knowledgeable.

Only Skin Deep

Despite the extraordinary claims otherwise, the technology revolution in healthcare isn’t really a revolution at all; the same measures of patient outcomes still matter, and the goal of healthcare hasn’t changed. Your nursing degree is your first, best tool in getting a good position in the field, but keep in mind that eventually, the modern way of doing things will become the standard, and you will have to get familiar. By doing so sooner, rather than later, you make yourself more employable, more valuable, and ultimately, a better nurse.

Author’s bio: Edgar Wilson is a freelance writer with a background in conflict resolution, critical analytics, and pub trivia.

image credits: stockimages