What do YOU want to be when you “grow up” and graduate from nursing school? Do you have a plan to make that happen?
If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you probably read about how I got a Specialty Nursing job straight out of school, without having to “do my time” on a Med-Surg floor first. I’m not going to lie, it’s not like I just woke up one morning and decided to apply to Operating Room (OR) jobs. It took me a good 6-9 months of researching, planning, and networking to make my dream happen. But the great news is that all of those steps can (and should!) be taken while you’re still in nursing school.
Nursing school offers some great opportunities to casually start your job search and increase your chances of getting hired after graduation. Here’s my top four favorite ways to get you started on securing your dream nursing job:
1. Soak it up during clinicals
During my clinical experience in my very first semester of nursing school, I had the opportunity to spend a day observing in the Operating Room (OR). It was my first time ever being in an OR while still awake, and I LOVED it! Being able to see other people’s “insides” was super cool to me.
Not only did I keep my eyes wide open so that I could learn as much as possible, but I also made a point to try and talk to every person in the room. Obviously, some were more willing and able to talk to me than others were…but even the surgeon was happy to answer a few questions about the procedures and what exactly he was doing during the surgery. The nurse anesthetist was super excited that I was interested in the OR, and practically gave me a guided tour. I was also able to talk with the anesthesiologist (who was the MD supervising the nurse anesthetist), the scrub tech, and (of course!) the circulating RN.
It was enough of an experience to let me know that I definitely wanted to be working in the OR someday. I didn’t think it would be possible to go straight to the OR as a new graduate, though…at least not until I had my second opportunity to observe in the OR during a different clinical rotation in a later semester!
2. Join a professional nursing organization
There is a professional nursing organization for just about every nursing specialty available. Best of all, almost all of them offer extremely cheap membership rates for students.
Joining a professional organization is one way to show prospective employers that you are serious about that nursing specialty, and that you’ve “done your homework” so that you know what it involves. It’s also a way to get more information and connect with nurses in your city that work in that specialty. Often, professional organizations even provide an online job board to help you find suitable places to work.
When I first became interested in the OR, I joined the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN; www.aorn.org) as a student member. At only $20/year, it was a no-brainer to get access to all the additional information and resources that they offered. At that early point in nursing school, I was also considering a specialty in Emergency Room (ER) nursing, so I simultaneously joined the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA; www.ena.org) for $38 (I was also a member of NSNA at the time; if you’re not a member of NSNA then the student membership fee is currently $50/year).
Although I ultimately decided that the OR was what I was most interested in, joining both the AORN and ENA were important in helping me to figure that out. It was also nice to include on my resume when it came time to apply for OR jobs!
3. Set-up a shadowing experience
Many local hospitals are surprisingly welcoming to nursing students who want to get more information about a specialty area. Once I knew that I wanted to try to go into OR nursing, I decided that I had to get more “experience.” Obviously, nobody was going to let a nursing student work in an OR! So I settled on the next best thing: shadowing!
I couldn’t guarantee that I would continue to get opportunities to observe in the OR during my school’s clinical rotations, so I decided to set-up my own, independent shadowing experiences. I started by calling a local hospital and speaking to their nurse recruiter. I explained who I was, what I wanted to do, and why. She put me in touch with the nurse educator in their OR, who was more than happy to schedule a day for me to come in and observe.
During this independent shadowing experience, the nurse educator took me on a tour of their OR, and introduced me to their current group of nurses who were training to start in the OR. I made a point to ask if they ever accepted new graduates into their OR training program, and she told me yes!
After taking me on a tour, she assigned me to another experienced nurse who was working that day. I spent the next few hours shadowing my new friend, helping where I could (which was not much!), watching everything, and asking questions of everyone.
And of course I sent a thank you note to the nurse educator after I went home!
4. Connect with nurses you know socially
Many people decide to go into nursing because they’ve known nurses who have inspired them. Sometimes those nurses happen to be friends or family, sometimes it was just a nurse who made a good impression when caring for you or a family member. In any case, almost everyone knows someone who is a nurse! Offer to take them out to coffee, or even lunch, then pick their brain. Find out where they’ve worked, what specialty areas they love, and why they love doing what they do. While you’re at it, why don’t you find out if you could shadow them at work?
Even if they don’t work in an area of nursing that interests you, they might know someone who does. Make sure you tell them about what area of nursing you think you’re interested in, and ask if they know any other nurses who work in that field.
I knew several nurses through my church, and as I shared with them my dream of becoming an OR nurse, one of them told me that she used to work in the Cardiac OR at a local hospitals. Although she no longer worked on that floor, she still had a lot of friends who did. She was more than happy to contact the nurse educator on my behalf and help me to set-up a shadowing experience in their cardiac OR.
Given that this particular OR worked with such high-risk patients, I’m not sure if I would have been able to set-up a shadowing experience at this location on my own without having the “referral” of someone they already knew and trusted. But it turned out to be one of my most memorable OR experiences of all time because I got to see a Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG).
There are few things as amazing as standing at the head of a patient who has his chest wide open. I could see the lungs expand and contract as the anesthesiologist controlled respirations. I saw when the heart was stopped so the Bypass machine could take over blood pumping duties. I was able to ask questions and actually see procedures that most people can only read about.
It was definitely one of my favorite memories from nursing school, and I doubt I would have gotten the opportunity if I hadn’t been intentional about getting to know other nurses around me and asking for their help.
Have you tried any of these tips to help you in your nursing job search? What were your results? Do you have any other ideas of things you can do while in nursing school to help secure the job of your dreams when you graduate?