Insight from a Second-Career Nurse: Tips,Thoughts, and Encouragement for Aspiring Nurses
Tag Archives: careerchange
They say when you begin a journey (or a big project) to start with the end in mind. Before I even switched careers, I did an online job search for the job I wanted. This preliminary job search helped direct and guide what I did to prepare me for my career change.
Do this before you pursue a bunch of training and education for a career change. Look at what your dream job requires. An old co-worker of mine became a nurse while she was working full-time and tried to apply to her dream job with a government organization. Unfortunately, she wasn’t qualified because her program was not accredited. She shared how her entire motivation to become a nurse was to work for this employer, and how devastating it was to discover that she couldn’t even apply to the organization.
To be honest, I *still* search for other jobs to this day to motivate me in getting the training, certifications, or experience I need for my next possible position.
If you are a career switcher, what advice do you have for people considering changing careers? Share in the comments below!
As a follow-up to my blog post last week, I thought I’d share some general tips and questions to consider when networking with others if you’re interested in switching careers. Scroll through the slides below for my tips!
Do you have any additional tips for networking or questions to ask others when considering a career change? Drop a comment below if you have something to share that you found helpful for you!
A friend recently asked me how I switched careers as a working mom. She was considering switching careers, so she wanted to know about some of my steps before becoming a nurse after years of working as an engineer. Some advice I gave her:
Talk to others in your profession of interest.
Ask them about their experience, challenges with their work, how they like their jobs, and their favorite part of their work.
Inquire about the education or training they completed to get where they are and how they got their job.
Before entering nursing school, I did these things to get an idea of what nursing was like and what I needed to do to become a nurse. To put it simply, I networked.
Build on your connections: Talk to Others You Know.
I talked to all the nurses and people in healthcare I knew. I had a couple of cousins who were nurses. Aside from periodically picking their brains at family gatherings, I asked if we could meet for lunch to discuss nursing. I asked them what they liked and disliked about nursing. I learned how they chose and got accepted to their nursing school and how long it took them to complete their programs. They shared how expensive their tuition was. I asked their impression of the various programs and the graduates their hospitals tend to hire.
If I had any nurse acquaintances, I tried interviewing them, too. I reached out to nurses I met from my mom’s club and nurses I knew from church. I offered to have coffee with them to discuss nursing. I had an old friend from college who had a friend that went through an ABSN program, and I asked my friend if I could reach out to her. My friend put us in touch, and I was able to ask her questions about her accelerated nursing program. I reached out to EVERYONE I knew who could give me some perspective on the nursing profession or nursing school.
Form Connections: Talk to Others You Don’t Know.
I even reached out to nurses I didn’t know at all. I joined a MeetUp for nurses. I explained my interest in nursing and my desire to meet more working nurses. When I’d go to my personal doctor’s appointments, I’d talk to MA’s, phlebotomists, and nurses and ask them how they like their job, what training they went through, and if they had advice for aspiring nurses. I even reached out to a nurse in my neighborhood’s Facebook Buy Nothing group. She graduated from a nursing program to which I was applying. I eventually became friends with her and was able to request her to review one of my nursing school application essays. (Sidenote: When I experienced my first death after a code blue, my nurse friend from church recommended I view a TED Talk given by a nurse about grief. The TED talk speaker turned out to be my neighbor/friend from my Buy Nothing group!)
Strengthen Your Connections: Continue to Network.
All nurses and even non-nurses I approached to discuss healthcare and nursing were supportive of me. All were willing to answer my questions. As I started to meet more nurses or people in healthcare, I felt I was getting a more accurate picture of Nursing.
I first heard the brutal truth about nurse burnout during my second Nurse MeetUp event. The host of the MeetUp, Cara Lunsford, didn’t want to scare or discourage me, but she also wanted to acknowledge the challenges nurses face and support working nurses. Until that meetup, I didn’t realize the nursing shortage wasn’t just that not enough people were entering nursing school. Cara shared that a lack of nurses also exists because many nurses leave the profession. The MeetUp was a nurses’ week event, and Cara’s company, Holliblu, hosted a free screening of the 2014 documentary, “The American Nurse.” I thought it was excellent exposure to various facets of nursing and the potential challenges I would face as a nurse. Since then, now that the world has experienced the COVID pandemic, I think more people are aware of nurses’ working conditions and burnout. My continuation to network emphasized that it’s good to learn as much as you can about your area of interest – the good, the bad, the ugly – before deciding whether or not it’s for you.
Join Professional Organizations or Online Groups
After meeting with my nurse friend from church, she suggested I join a professional nursing organization’s Facebook group. She was part of a local chapter of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). I asked to be part of the Facebook group before I was even in nursing school. Because I was part of the Facebook group, I learned about and attended a sponsored event with AACN during nursing school, even though I wasn’t an official AACN member. I spoke with critical care nurses who provided unsolicited but valuable advice on where NOT to work after graduating from nursing school. Eventually, I became a paid member of AACN as a nursing student. (Hint: Membership fees are cheaper if you join professional organizations while still a student. Also, professional memberships are good to put on your resume as you apply to new grad jobs.)
Before I became a nurse, I tried immersing myself in the working environment of a nurse. I reached out to a former co-worker and fellow engineer who volunteered at a hospital before she joined a full-time MBA/MPH program. Her volunteer program, COPE Health Scholars, seemed rigorous and offered excellent training. It was more than simply pushing patients in their wheelchairs or bringing them water. Volunteers took vitals, assisted CNAs with patient activities of daily living, and participated in codes, as allowed by their certifications. I learned about the program through her, and I applied. I passed the rigorous application process and training and got accepted into the COPE Health Scholars program while working as an engineer. I volunteered throughout my pre-requisites, nursing school applications, and until my ABSN program started. I met many more nurses and worked with patients in various units. The program further cemented my desire to become a nurse, gave me valuable clinical experience, and helped with my nursing school applications. Perhaps even more beneficial for a handful of other volunteers, the program helped them recognize that healthcare was not for them.
Return the Favor: Give Back
Seize networking opportunities, but don’t be an opportunist. When networking, it’s not just about what you can take from others. If you want to build relationships and good faith, offer something in return. Share your wealth with others. Your wealth is not just monetary wealth – you have skills, time, knowledge, experience, connections, and resources. Some examples of how I tried to reciprocate with others I networked with:
I offered to buy lunch or coffee for nurses who agreed to meet with me.
When my entrepreneurial MeetUp host inquired about corporate sponsorship or contacts, I gave as much insight as possible about the company that employed me as an engineer. Even though my work experience was in the consumer products sector, my former employer led a campaign to support nurses and the nursing profession.
I signed up to volunteer at AACN community service events and got some of my nursing school classmates to join me. (AACN eventually canceled these Spring 2020 community service opportunities due to the pandemic).
When another mom’s club member approached me to explore nursing as a career change, I readily met with her during a study break.
I put my friend, who is exploring a career change, in touch with the one person I knew who worked in her field of interest.
I have to admit I always found the term “networking” intimidating, but it’s something I had done before changing careers without realizing it. I hope what I’ve written provides examples of how you can network – or connect with others – to explore a second career. I’d love to hear about ways you network, what’s worked/didn’t work, and what you thought was helpful! Good luck on your journey!
I am happy to announce that I got a job as an acute care RN and started my new grad program at a hospital! I did not post last week because I was in orientation all week and transitioning into my new role. I am thrilled to be part of my program since it is at my top choice hospital and provides comprehensive training. While I’m excited to share my good news, I wanted to discuss what led me to land a spot in my new grad program. I share my job search experience to offer encouragement, hope, and advice to future new grad nurses.
I applied to the same program after getting rejected the first time.
I got rejected the first time I applied to my program last Fall. The hospital did not even invite me to interview. I applied a second time to the new grad program in January, interviewed in March, and got an offer two weeks later. Some differences when I applied the second time:
I had gained several months of experience as an RN (COVID tester),
I had earned additional certifications to add to my resume,
I finally knew a couple of nurses working in the hospital, one of whom put in a good word for me to their manager,
I tweaked my application based on what I heard about the need and availability of positions; I emphasized wanting acute care experience instead of working in a specialty.
I applied to 74 RN positions before I got my offer at my hospital.
The new grad program at my hospital was the very first RN job to which I applied. I continued to apply to other positions, but I was narrow in my search. I focused on the specialty I was interested in and expressed this in my new grad program personal statements. After months of submitting applications and not getting any interviews, I expanded my job search to include Med-Surge/Telemetry positions. I finally landed my first acute care RN interview in a Telemetry unit. In the interview, I expressed strong interest in eventually transferring to a specialty unit within five years. I learned they were interested in me but concerned I wouldn’t be happy in the department and abandon them. They did not give me the job offer.
As my search continued, I learned not to narrow my focus to a specialty unit when I had no hospital experience. Once hired, it’s much easier to switch positions internally than to be an external hire. I still have a strong interest in the specialty unit. However, my priority as a new grad is to gain acute care experience and develop my nursing practice in a supportive and safe environment. In my new grad program, no specialty unit positions were available where I initially focused my search. Still, I applied and was determined to have a spot in the program because of the training and development I knew it would provide me. So far, I’ve been happy with my choice and have been learning a lot!
I worked as a COVID tester and vaccinator while applying to new grad programs and acute RN positions.
One of the 74 positions I applied for was a contract RN supporting studios as a COVID tester. Thankfully, I got the job. It was a great way to get experience working as an RN while still having enough flexibility to apply to hospital RN jobs and interview. More recruiters were interested in me once I became a working RN. Also, after working several months, my employer wrote a lovely reference letter for me that I submitted with my applications and included in my portfolio. A handful of positions required an employer reference. It was nice to be able to provide an employer reference from the healthcare industry.
I interviewed at five hospitals before I accepted an offer to join my program.
I applied to many acute care RN positions, with numerous ones at the same hospital or same unit but day and night shift positions. After applying, working, and networking, I eventually got invited to interview for some hospitals. However, most of these interviews took place only because I knew someone internally who advocated for me.
After unsuccessfully job searching on my own, I began to reach out to friends and family members in healthcare to let them know I was searching for hospital RN jobs. I also spoke with other nurses I met in my per diem job about their hospital jobs or connections. One of my coworkers got me an interview at her hospital! Most of the hospital interviews I had were because someone I knew convinced a hiring manager or director to interview me.
If you don’t know someone, it’s not impossible to get an interview. One of the interviews I had where I knew no one in the organization resulted in an on-the-spot job offer. I eventually turned it down and accepted a spot in my current new grad program instead.
I persevered after rejections or no feedback.
I applied to many programs or positions where I received no feedback for months or not at all – I would be listed as “under consideration” several months after applying. The first time I applied to my program in September, I didn’t receive my official rejection until November, months after my application submission. I tried contacting and leaving messages with some of the recruiters for other job submissions but would still get little to no response.
It was frustrating to hear people’s surprise at my difficulty finding a job: “Isn’t there a shortage of nurses? We’re in a pandemic – don’t they need nurses?” I had to explain that organizations need experienced nurses, and I had no experience.
My lack of experience working in healthcare was a disadvantage for me. I knew many of my classmates that quickly found jobs had prior healthcare experience working as surgical technicians, CNAs, Patient Care Associates (PCA), EMTs, or nurse extenders. The majority of my cohort completed their preceptorships at a hospital that used them after completing their clinical hours as nurse extenders or surge nurses in preparation for and during the COVID surge. I’ve learned if you can work in healthcare before you graduate, it’s much easier to find a job as a nurse.
Additionally, new grad programs were difficult to find or were highly competitive since many had been canceled or delayed. While I was disappointed at not getting accepted into programs earlier or not having acute care RN offers to consider sooner, I wonder if the rejections were God’s grace saving me from starting a job amid a COVID surge. A former classmate shared she cried before most of her shifts due to the deaths she witnessed. Another friend shared that many new grads in her unit were pulled off orientation less than two weeks into their training to help with the surge. In various ways, new and veteran nurses that worked during the surges were traumatized by the pandemic. If I had started working in a hospital sooner, COVID would have impacted my nursing experience in a much different way. In retrospect, I’m thankful for the rejections and disappointments in my life that led me to where I am today.
Never Give Up
I did not envision starting a job in a hospital almost nine months after graduating from nursing school. However, I trusted in my skills and abilities and knew that I had something to offer and had to keep trying. I was unsure of when or where I would work as an acute care RN, but I was confident in eventually getting a job somewhere and remained passionate about wanting to help people.
If you have a calling, go for it. If it’s truly your calling, opportunities will present themselves to you to lead you to your vocation, no matter how much you try to ignore it. The road may not be easy and may come with disappointments and rejections, but it might be what you need to direct you to your ultimate calling. Good luck on your journey!
I was inspired by a quote I saw in a post about life not being easy:
“Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard.
Obesity is hard. Being fit is hard. Choose your hard.
Being in debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. Choose your hard.
Communication is hard. Not communicating is hard. Choose your hard.
Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard. Choose wisely”
I don’t know who authored the original quote, but I thought I’d add my own spin on it.
Also, I want to tell you something I tell my daughter (and myself) : “YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS”.
I am my daughter’s first and foremost female role model. How she sees me react to struggle or hard things makes an impression on her. I am not perfect. I struggle and often make mistakes. However, I want my daughter to see me handle difficult things and be resilient. She needs to know it’s okay to try again after failure or to continuously attempt hard things. The best way to teach her that is through my own actions.
Life isn’t easy. We don’t always have easy or favorable choices. We often have hard choices. But our resiliency and how we handle hard choices is what shapes us and makes us stronger. Know you’re not alone.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day in America, where we celebrate and remember this great activist. Most people are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) “I Have a Dream” speech but may not be aware of his other speeches or the origin of some of his inspirational quotes. He was a great preacher and gave many more rallying and inspirational speeches promoting justice, non-violence, and people’s dignity. One of his speeches that inspired me in my career and career change was “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” I wasn’t aware of this speech or its contents until I attended a performance at my work years ago where someone had assembled parts of MLK’s speeches and presented/recited it for us during an MLK day celebration. I was lucky to have an active African American employee resource group host the presentation over lunch at our company.
Martin Luther King, Jr. presented “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” to a group of students at Barrat Junior High School on October 26, 1967. It is a timeless message that is relevant today and applies to all ages about being the best you can be. Footage from that day and video of his entire speech can be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/kmsAxX84cjQ, thanks to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In honor of the holiday, I encourage you to watch the footage, which is only about 20 minutes. Below, I have gathered some motivational quotes and excerpts from his speech that were not previously familiar to me. I hope you reference them whenever you need inspiration!
Keep striving for excellence as you pursue your future endeavors, whether it be nursing or otherwise! Have a blessed day!