Smiling Asian nurse forming a heart with her hands

From Student to Professional: The Transition from Nursing School to the Workplace

How to Find a Nursing Job and Thrive in Your New Career

Smiling Asian nurse forming a heart with her hands

The transition from nursing school to working in a real clinical environment is one of the most important times in any nurse’s career. It’s where you truly spread your wings as a professional and take the next step in terms of autonomy and responsibility while caring for patients.

Nurses entering the workforce fresh out of school will certainly face some challenges, but they also have opportunities to establish themselves on the career path that’s best for them. By seeking out a solid support network and proactively preparing during your nursing program, new nurses can set themselves up for a successful shift from nursing students to competent professionals.

Let’s review some strategies to help you prepare for your nursing career, some tips for transitioning into the workplace, and most importantly, for new graduates—how to find your first nursing job! If you’re just starting the journey toward your nursing career, you may also want to explore our detailed guide on how to prepare for nursing school.

Preparing for Your Nursing Career

A smooth transition to your nursing career starts while you’re still in school. Staying engaged in your nursing education helps you confidently perform essential tasks and make evidence-based decisions once you’re responsible for your own patients. Whether it’s a lecture or a lab session, never hesitate to ask your instructor questions or to seek out extra tutoring if you’re struggling with a certain subject. The effort you make to master the material could end up saving a patient’s life one day.

Nursing programs that coordinate clinical rotations or externships for their students can also be a massive benefit for fledgling nurses. Shadowing experienced nurses helps you adapt to the fast-paced nature of many medical environments, and helps bridge the gap between taking the lead in real-life clinical situations and the controlled simulations you’ll complete as a nursing student.

Finally, be sure to take advantage of any available resources to help you prepare for the NCLEX licensing exam. Passing the NCLEX is required before you can obtain your license and begin your nursing career, so understanding the test format and taking a practice exam or two can help avoid any delays when it comes time to find your first nursing job. Some nursing schools offer review courses or even entire teams of NCLEX specialists to help you study and prepare for the exam.

How to Find a Nursing Job

After you’ve completed your nursing program and earned your license, entering the workforce is the next step. While finding a nursing job can seem overwhelming at times, focusing on these areas can greatly increase your odds of landing a position you’ll love.

Resume and Cover Letters

Crafting a strong resume that highlights your skills, experience, and achievements is important for any job-seeker, including nurses. Tailoring your resume to match each job on your radar is important since it provides an opportunity to showcase relevant skills.

For example, if you’re applying to work in a surgical department or women’s health clinic, you’ll want to focus on your experience with those patient populations. Including a relevant cover letter can also help you show off your enthusiasm, your knowledge of the hiring organization, and your understanding of the job description.

Academic Connections

Some nursing schools offer career services to their graduates and can help you polish your resume, practice your interview skills, and even provide you with job leads. In some cases, it’s possible to find a nursing job before you’ve taken the NCLEX, with the offer contingent upon successfully passing the exam.

Nailing the Interview

During job interviews for nursing positions, you may be asked questions about big-picture topics like how you deal with stress and why you decided to become a nurse. You’re also likely to be asked about specific clinical situations and how you’d handle them. Hiring managers want to see your clinical-reasoning and problem-solving skills in action.

Do your best to give thoughtful, genuine responses that are thorough, but not too long-winded. You should also ask a potential employer your own questions about your job responsibilities, training and onboarding policies, and any mentorship or preceptorship opportunities.

African-American nurse helping an elderly man walk

Exploring Different Work Environments

Nursing jobs are available in many different work settings, from bustling hospitals to specialty clinics, schools, and long-term care facilities. Busy hospitals and emergency departments often have a more hectic pace, but they can also come with other benefits, like the opportunity to learn about a variety of specialties. In addition to your daily duties and potential advancement opportunities, be sure to consider quality-of-life factors like commute distance and scheduling.

Want to learn more about the huge variety of career opportunities available to registered nurses? Check out our list of the 16 highest-paid nursing jobs.

Transitioning Into the Workplace

For many nurses, the transition from nursing school into a clinical workplace is equally exciting and overwhelming. The experience of a new nurse in their first job has often been described as drinking from a fire hose due to the massive amount of information they’re expected to retain. Starting your first nursing job can be emotionally challenging for many nurses. It’s totally normal to feel anxious, insecure, or overwhelmed at times. Trust your training, focus on making evidence-based decisions, and seek out support from your colleagues and supervisors when necessary.

Many healthcare employers understand the importance of providing proper support to new nurses as they transition to clinical practice. Preceptorship or mentorship programs that pair new nurses with experienced colleagues can be priceless for recent nursing graduates. A preceptor can provide individual attention, feedback, and supervision, that is not always possible in the larger student groups that often attend clinical rotations.

Tips for Nurses Entering the Workforce

As newly licensed nurses find their first jobs and gear up for the start of their careers, these tips can help build confidence, connect with colleagues, and establish a solid support network.

Build Relationships

Getting to know your fellow healthcare providers across different departments helps you become part of the workplace culture and creates opportunities to learn from colleagues in different specialties.

Ask Questions

In a patient-care environment where people’s well-being is at stake, it’s important to be 100% clear on your responsibilities and your employer’s policies. If something seems unclear, never be embarrassed to speak up—asking questions shows you care about getting things right, and any good manager or mentor will be receptive.

Stay Humble

Confidence in your abilities is important—but so is an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn from experienced colleagues. Nurses are never done learning, and being coachable will help you establish good working relationships and build new skills that can progress your career.

Find a Mentor

Outside of a formal preceptorship program, finding an experienced mentor to share valuable experience and advice can help you grow into your newfound responsibilities. It’s helpful to talk to somebody who can relate to the challenges of the job–and also share inspiration from their many rewarding moments as a nurse!

Communicate With Care

Communication with your patients and fellow healthcare providers is a critical part of providing excellent care and building healthy workplace relationships. Whether it’s relaying a patients’ needs or concerns to colleagues, or respectfully questioning something that could put your patient at risk, your interpersonal skills will be almost as important as your clinical skills.

Seek Ongoing Training

From postgraduate degree programs to conferences and training sessions, expanding your nursing skills and knowledge helps increase your confidence in caring for patients and can open up new career possibilities.

African-American nurse smiling outside with a clipboard

Developing Professional Competence

Medical technology and treatments are constantly evolving, which means nursing competency is an ongoing process that involves continual learning. Most states require nurses to complete a certain number of ongoing education hours every year or two to maintain their nursing license.

Ongoing education for nurses not only ensures their knowledge stays up to date with the latest advances, it also offers chances to expand their skills and gain experience in new areas of nursing. The more knowledge of different areas that nurses can add to their tool kit, the more effective they become in considering all the available evidence and making sound clinical decisions.

Aside from structured training and education opportunities, mentorship and peer support both play a major role in helping new nurses succeed in the workforce. Getting advice and feedback from your fellow nurses can sharpen your skills and help you develop as a healthcare provider and a professional.

The Importance of Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Most nurses get into the profession because they’re enthusiastic about helping others. To keep that fire burning and ensure they’re able to show up for their patients, it’s critical for nurses to take care of themselves both on and off the clock.

Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and learning stress-management methods like meditation or breathing techniques are all valuable tools for handling the emotional toll of nursing. Especially for night-shift nurses, staying consistent with your sleep routine helps improve the quality of your rest (and your overall physical and mental health.) Meeting with a therapist is also transformative for many people—be sure to take advantage of any benefits or employee assistance plans that offer access to mental health care.

While it can be tempting to take a lot of responsibility in an effort to prove yourself in a new job, overextending yourself can compromise the quality of care your patients receive. Never hesitate to ask your colleagues for support during a shift, or your friends and family for support outside of work. It’s also OK to say no to extra shifts or overtime if you need some time to recharge.

Prepare for Your Transition to Nursing at Provo College

Your evolution from nursing student to full-fledged registered nurse is a major life transition. Giving the transition the care and preparation it deserves can set you up for a successful and satisfying career, and help you accomplish your long-term goals. At the same time, healthcare organizations that prioritize training and preceptorship programs for their new hires can make a major impact on the quality of their patient care and their overall workplace culture.

Nursing schools that focus on guiding their students through the transition from college to career can be a huge help when you’re first starting out. In addition to an accredited nursing education, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Provo College provides all graduates with ongoing access to a career services team that can help you navigate your job search and access employment opportunities. And with an accelerated program that makes it possible to earn your degree in around three years, you could be caring for patients sooner than you think.

If you’re considering a career in nursing and want to know more about how to make it happen, you’ll find helpful answers in our guide on how to become a registered nurse.