You’ve aced all your classes, walked across the stage, and passed the NCLEX. What a relief! Now you can relax. For about a minute. Because now comes the real work – getting out there and finding a job. Many nurses know in their hearts, even when they are still in school, what area of nursing they want to go into, but many do not, and that is perfectly fine! If you are in the position of having graduated but have no idea what kind of nurse you actually want to be, take heart, because there are many, many options out there. When making the decision about what specialty of nursing in which to begin your career, you need to take into account not only the job market in your local area, but your own skills and abilities, likes and dislikes, your personality traits, and your goals for the future.
Start out on med/surg or find you own path?
The conventional wisdom used to be that every new grad nurse should start out on a medical/surgical floor. You will usually stay very busy throughout your whole shift on a med/surg floor and take care of a wide variety of patients. Some days you’ll have patients who are very sick, so much so that you’ll question why they aren’t in the ICU. Other days you are discharging people home left and right, struggling to keep up. Many will argue that med-surg work is the heart of nursing and provides new grads with the foundational skills they will need to move on to other specialties later, if they so choose. And frankly, the easiest and fastest way to get a job as a new grad is to go to a med/surg floor. They are always some of the most challenging floors to keep staffed in the hospital and are usually the most willing to hire new grads. The floor is seen by many as a place to get your experience and move on, and not necessarily a place where many nurses want to stay for the long haul. This belief that one should start out in med/surg is a very valid point of view, and many people still agree with that, but others see it as an outdated viewpoint. I would tend to agree with the latter statement. While I myself started out in med/surg and gained invaluable experience, I do not think that it’s necessarily the right path for everyone. These days, new grads can go straight into the ER, ICU, OR and other “specialized” fields at many hospitals, and absolutely thrive. In years past, these types of positions may have been reserved for more experienced nurses, but in this day and age, where most hospitals nationwide struggle with staffing, new grads can be hired in almost any area.
Match your personality to your nursing unit
Think about your own personality before selecting an area of nursing. For example, do you love an adrenaline rush? Do you get bored doing the same thing day in and day out, and love situations where you never know what might happen from one minute to the next? The ER might be for you! Do you love blood, guts and gore, are good with machinery, a quick problem solver, and have a personality strong enough to work directly with surgeons? You may love the operating room. Are you extremely detail oriented, organized, and love learning in depth about disease processes, and love the challenge of caring for the sickest of the sick and their families? The ICU may be for you. The most important thing is to ask plenty of questions in your interview if you are unsure about what the day-to-day work of a job will actually look like, so you can better determine whether the position is a good fit for your personality.
Consider your future goals when beginning your nursing career
Another important thing to remember when selecting a job is how it might affect your future goals. For example, many new grads may be unaware that in order to get accepted into most CRNA schools, you need to have at least one year of ICU experience. Additionally, it is also extremely helpful to have ICU or ER experience if you want to become a nurse practitioner. Another important aspect to keep in mind for the future of your career is that you don’t want to narrow your skill set too early in your career, unless you are certain which area of nursing you love. For example, if you work in labor and delivery directly after graduation, you may have difficulty transitioning to other areas of nursing later on, as there will be some skills you have not used since you were in nursing school. This is also true if you begin your career in other specialized areas such as the operating room, or in a clinic rather than hospital setting. But again, if you’ve always had your heart set on L&D, or the OR, there’s nothing wrong with going for it right off the bat. If you find it’s not as great as you thought it would be, you can still transition to another area; it may be difficult but certainly not impossible.
No easy jobs in nursing, so find your niche
When looking for a nursing job, especially your very first one, you should heed the words of my first nurse manager I ever had, a very wise and experienced woman. She said one should never choose a nursing job based on how “easy” or “low-stress” it appears to be, because when it comes to nursing, she said, that type of job doesn’t exist! No matter where you choose to go, nursing is a tough field, and you will face unexpected challenges every day, but if you made it through nursing school, you are tough enough to handle it. Furthermore, do not be alarmed if it takes you some time to find your “niche” in nursing. Sometimes you have to work in a few different areas to really find out what you like and don’t like. You will still gain invaluable experience and learn new skills in any field you choose to go into, even if you don’t remain in that specialty for a long time.