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What to do if you didn’t get into a grad nursing program


My Health Career is pleased to present a guest article from Bradley Winter, a 2011 nursing graduate who now works in Aged Care in Brisbane. Brad initially wrote the article when he graduated, but 3 years down the track, 2014 grads are going through the same thing.

“Are you coming to the end of your nursing studies? Have you spent hours figuring out the perfect wording for your job application, collecting the mound of documentation you need to send in and rehearsing the best of the best responses to any potential interview question someone could possibly fire at you? You may have already got to the stage of having an interview and now face the painful, seemingly endless wait to find out if you were successful. Or perhaps you have heard absolutely nothing except the politely worded “thank you for your application” email.

Whatever your situation, the feelings of stress abound. Most of my friends and acquaintances at uni are in the same boat at the moment, they are all experiencing this niggling feeling of stress. They are fighting the thoughts that they may land out of uni unemployed, or stuck in their painful uni job they’ve put up with for two or three years knowing that it had a use-by date. And when I say ‘they’, I mean me too.

Graduating from a degree where you’re told before you start that “you’ll always have a job with nursing” into an environment where there are very few graduate positions is a bit scary. It’s like a little bubble has been burst and you know that you, or some of your friends are not going to be nursing away like they hoped to be. That’s what got me thinking – what am I going to do if I don’t land a job in a graduate program straight up? Thankfully I managed to avoid a crippling attack of angst caused by such thoughts by coming up with some ideas…

Leap-frog the Grad Program
If you’re the type to desperately want to be in the thick of things, nursing your heart out straight after uni, you need to widen your vision. Graduate programs are not the only employment option for recently graduated registered nurses. Despite the plentiful barriers and competition, some advertised positions for nurses are suitable for graduates. They’re hard to come by and I’d imagine your application would have to shine blindingly for you to get a look in over experienced nurses, but if you think you’re capable, give it a go. I know a few people who never completed grad programs, and despite the few bumps along the way, they’re fully-fledged nurses cruising along with the best of them.

Being employed directly as an RN without a grad program is extremely daunting – the supports inherent in most grad programs are missing and the knowledge expectation is greater. But remember, if you manage to score yourself a job, your employer will know full well that you’re a grad, no matter how good you seem in the interview. They will usually make sure you have some support, perhaps including supernumery days, training courses and access to clinical educators where possible.

Just remember to widen your scope – you’re not going to be employed straight into your dream job. You’re trying to get an in, and once you’re in, it’s infinitely easier to move around the workforce, so take whatever you get.

Fly by the seat of your pants
Another option for immediate employment is with a nursing agency. This can be tough as well, with most agencies requiring you to be employed as an RN for at least a year before they will even look at you. But among the throng of agencies, there are a couple that will take grads on. Again, you have to really stand out that you are capable to be employed, possibly even more so than a normal job. This is because, as an agency nurse, you will likely be sent to multiple facilities, to many different wards and be expected to perform well in every one of them.

This option is not for the faint-hearted. You will have to be thrown in the deep end a lot, and many wards are unsympathetic to you being fresh out of uni – they expect you to be able to cope with whatever they throw at you. The most important thing to remember if you go for this option is to be honest – never say you can do things that are out of your depth. When you arrive on a ward, tell them straight away that you’re a new grad, and be prepared to answer their questions such as ‘how long since you graduated?’, or ‘have you worked here or in a similar ward before?’. Answer them honestly and identify straight up where you can get help for the day.

Treat each shift like a day on prac, look up or ask about things you don’t know and prepare before you get there (if you know beforehand where you’ll be doing). Also remember that each ward you work on is a potential employer – they will remember you if you apply for a job there, so make sure you stand out…in a good way.

Go back to the books
A few of my friends have decided to avoid the rat race for another year or so and keep studying. While many post-graduate nursing programs require experience, many don’t and you can quite easily knuckle down to get your graduate certificate or diploma in something useful in a year or two of full-time study. One of my friends has opted for a full-time study load until they find a job, then dropping back to only one or two subjects at a time – that way, she’s always on the move career-wise.

Other options would be to go for non-nursing study options that may be useful in the future. If you’re in to the education side of things, why not arm yourself with a certificate IV in workplace training and assessing – one of the core tools that is really handy (and sometimes necessary) in an education career. You may be into the management and HR side of things, so a certificate in business or people management could be very valuable in the future as well. Imagine how far ahead you’ll be when you do find employment as a nurse, these things look fantastic on résumés.

Meet the bus at the next stop
The grad program that lines up with the end of your degree is not the only grad program. There is usually a mid-year program particularly in the big employers which open up around April or May (but check the websites to make sure!). You can usually still be employed as a graduate nurse in the first year or so after your degree with no dramas, so just waiting it out and trying something a little different in the next application could be just the ticket.

This also gives you the opportunity to explore your options more and look at other programs you didn’t consider or perhaps even know about before (such as in other states). Personally, I missed a couple of programs I would have applied for this year in the private sector but either didn’t know about them or forgot about them in my final semester rush. There are also options in the aged care and community sectors that sometimes are hard to spot if you’re not looking.

Some hospitals run grad programs for nurse relief pools, or similar, several times a year. These programs usually employ graduate nurses who work on various wards, much like an agency nurse, but the benefit is that you’re always in the same facility and you probably have more access to training and support than if you were employed outside. The trick with these is finding them. Get online and dig around hospital websites for information about their nurse relief pools and don’t be scared to make a phone call if you get really stuck. You never know your luck.

Keep your head in the game
With all of these options, one of the most important things to remember to do is keep up with your knowledge. You may have a qualification, but you need to be able to show that you can apply knowledge when you go for a job. This means reading journal articles regularly, reading your text books, surfing the net for online learning materials, re-reading assignments, setting your own ‘assignments’, re-doing tests and anything else you can think of. You’ll have to do some study even when you’re employed, so why not stay in practice?

Along with keeping up your education, seeking some sort of mentor could also be useful to help you stay motivated. A mentor can help guide your self-learning, answer questions you may have or just be able to talk nursing with you while you’re waiting for your next job opportunity. Think about using people you’ve met on placement, friends from uni, old facilitators etc. People are often more willing than you think to share their knowledge.

So if you’re one of the unlucky ones landed at the other end of nursing studies without a job and no plan, think about the options I spoke about here. They may not suit everyone, but they may give you some ideas to keep you going. Don’t lose heart over not getting employment after your studies, the nursing world is tough at the moment, it may just take a bit of time.

Good luck.”

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