The Hardest Parts of Being a New Nursing School Grad (and How to Overcome Them)

Charmaine Robinson, MSN-Ed, RN
Updated June 14, 2023
    Completing nursing school is a great accomplishment. Discover ways to overcome the challenges that come with being a new grad.
    Two nurses talking at a small tableCredit: Getty Images
    • New nursing school graduates may face hurdles on the road to licensure and employment.
    • Challenges include studying, job hunting, resume building, and standing out to employers.
    • Brace for challenges by setting schedules, staying organized, and making good impressions.

    Your completion of nursing school deserves a celebration. The long nights, never-ending care plans, and daunting clinical rotations are over. No more midterms. No more finals. Congratulations! You’re now in an advantageous position — you have something employers want.

    Yet, the road to licensure and employment can be paved with hurdles that you may not have anticipated. Discover ways to prepare for your new journey and overcome the challenges facing nursing school grads.

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    Landing Your First Nursing Job

    It’s true in many fields: The first job is probably the most difficult to get, and that certainly holds true for new nursing school graduates.

    It’s no secret that most employers want you to have prior experience. Yet, how can you gain experience if not given the opportunity? Students might consider other routes to landing a job.

    Cheary Shelim, DNP, RN, AGCNS-BC, knows firsthand the challenges students face while on their educational and career journeys. She has taught nursing students as both a clinical instructor and assistant professor for nine years. She highlights the importance of making an impression to potential employers during clinical training.

    “I would tell my students that every day they come to clinicals is an interview,” Shelim said. “You never know if perhaps, in the future, you would work with someone you meet during clinicals.”

    Volunteering or starting an externship after graduation may also bring opportunities.

    Landing a job is one of the many challenges after graduation. While you may feel discouraged on your new journey, keep in mind that it’s likely only temporary. So start preparing today.

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    Tackle the 4 Top Challenges Facing New Nursing Grads

    Passing the state nursing exam and landing a nursing job are the biggest challenges new grads face after graduation. This includes making time to study, searching for jobs, standing out to employers, and staying encouraged throughout the entire process. Here are four hurdles that may stand in your way and the ways to overcome them.

    1 | Balancing Job Hunting and Studying for the State Nursing Exam

    Although you may want to have a job lined up by the time you get your nursing license, the time it takes to hunt for a job can interfere with the time you need to study for the state nursing exam.

    The job hunting process can be laborious and time-consuming, especially if you are hoping to find job opportunities where you can apply without having your license yet. If you decide to start researching and applying for jobs during this time, time management is a must.

    The best way to manage your time is to set strong boundaries and stay consistent with your schedule. Set aside certain days for job hunting and other days for studying, and try not to stray from this. You can also study during certain times of the day and job hunt at other times. Creating a calendar may help.

    2 | Staying Organized While Job Hunting

    Being organized while looking for a job can be as simple as creating a job search schedule. Start with the facility type, location, or even the training sites where you completed your clinicals. For example, on Week 1, you can start researching hospitals in a particular city and on Week 2, hospitals in a different city.

    You also have the option to use job boards like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Indeed. These boards have features where you can filter the search results and “save jobs for later.” Shelim suggests narrowing your search field to what your passion and interests are.

    Consider keeping a record of your job search details. Include sections for:

    • Facility name and location
    • Name of recruiter or manager
    • Position title and/or job requisition number
    • Pay rate
    • Job listing date
    • Application deadline (for new graduate orientation programs)
    • Date you applied
    • Date you followed up

    If you are job hunting while studying for the state nursing exam, make a list of the facilities with new grad orientation application periods opening around the time you plan to take the exam.

    3 | Perfecting Your Resume

    First and foremost, employers want to see that you are a good fit for their company. Just as you had to tailor care plans to fit your patients’ needs in nursing school, resumes should be tailored to fit each employer’s job description.

    [out] how to stand out and show your passion [for nursing],” Shelim said.

    Show how your strengths and work ethic match the employer’s vision or mission statement. This can be integrated in the objective, goal, or experience section of your resume.

    If you have never worked in the medical or nursing field in any capacity, the experience section of your resume doesn’t necessarily have to look bare.

    Add volunteer work, nurse internships/externships, and even clinical rotation training. List the training facilities, and draw attention to certain skills you practiced there that match those listed in the prospective employer’s job description.

    If you are still a student, start working on your resume now.

    “Have someone look it over. Perhaps a colleague or a professor,” Shelim suggests. If you know any nurses personally (family, friends, or co-workers), consider asking them to review your resume. It’s never too early or late to start perfecting your resume.

    4 | Requesting Recommendation Letters

    While employers and volunteer organization leaders may be great sources for recommendation letters, nursing instructors are often requested for this task. Your clinical instructor may be the best person to ask. However, before asking, make sure that you have made a good impression during your clinical rotations.

    Your instructors should feel confident in your clinical and professional abilities.

    [students] to do their best, to come on time, to go the extra mile whenever they can, and to be safe,” says Shelim. “I cannot write recommendation letters to someone I do not trust to take care of my family.”

    Keep in mind that instructors may have many students requesting letters from them. Send instructors a copy of all student clinical evaluation forms they filled out for you during the course. You can also email them a brief paragraph or list highlighting certain skills you did during their course and what made you stand out.

    Overcoming the challenges you may face after graduation requires patience, preparation, and openness. “Keep an open mind,” Shelim encourages. “Nursing is very broad with lots of opportunities.”

    Success after graduation depends on more than a good education.

    “Grades are important,” she said, “… but connections are, too. When you look for a job, they won’t ask you what grade you received in a certain class. Knowledge is important, but a positive attitude will go a long way.”

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Cheary Shelim, DNP, RN, AGCNS-BC

    Cheary Shelim, DNP, RN, AGCNS-BC

    Cheary Shelim, DNP, RN, AGCNS-BC, has been a nurse for more than 10 years. She has a background in medical-surgical nursing, telemetry, school nursing, and teaching. Over the course of her nine-year teaching career, she taught nursing students as both a clinical instructor and assistant professor of nursing. Shelim received both her bachelor’s in nursing and doctorate of nursing practice from Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California.