Tag Archives: nursing job interview

What if every nurse did this today? Major TIP for today

Want to make a good impression at you nursing workplace? I have worked in hospitals all my adult life, and I am about to impart a secret that will help you get ahead, every time.  When you use it, let me know how you make out. All I ask in return is that you share this blog with as many friends as you can, and consider adding as a subscriber. For an added bonus, look at the fan page for my book about Hospital Care in Nepal. 500 photos, some videos and commentary on health care in Low Income Countries.

There is a secret group of employees at your hospital

They are unseen, and often unrecognized, but you can’t do your job without them.  It’s the housekeeping staff.

Once I had a student group at a Catholic Hospital in the Northeast. I like and respect Catholic healthcare ( yes, I am Catholic myself and I do go to church. Yesterday’s sermon was about Abraham and his obedience to God. we were all happy that Abraham’s son got off the hook, even though it was last-minute if you ask me).

But I digress – back to the Catholic Hospital

The C.E.O. of the place was a Catholic nun. Wonderful person. Truly. She had this amazing ability to appear on the ward at odd times just whenever there was some sort of conflict happening with a patient or family. It was like magic. Uncanny.

I discovered it by accident

Turns out that the housekeeping staff all had cell phones and she’d given them her cell number. The housekeepers there were all longtime employees – we are talking thirty years or more in some cases. The CEO would host them  for breakfast now and again. The CEO always had a good word for me, because I had long ago adopted a policy to be nice to housekeeping. There was one who was Polish-American  and I sang her my favorite Polish Christmas Carol.

Now – I have never seen such an effective under-the-radar surveillance system at any other place. But whether this kind of informal network exists or not, you can do your self a favor by adopting one simple practice. Learn each housekeeper’s name, say hello to them every day, and be friendly.

That’s all you need to do. that’s the tip for the day. I think especially for a new nurse, a hospital setting is overwhelming and there are so many people to figure out, that it is easy to retreat into a small shell and only interface with people who are above you in the food chain somehow.

try it for a week, and let me know how you make out….

and yes, if you are applying for a job, be kind to every person along the way, including such persons as the receptionist in the Human Resources Office. Even if they do not have the CEO’s cell phone number…..




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Nursing students – the glass is half full!

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and why not buy my book? I have been in some difficult patient care situations in my career, but I have found ways to cope. My book may not help you get a nursing job, but maybe it will help you get perspective on what is important in life.

To get a nursing job, be an optimist

Sometimes if you are being discouraged, the person interviewing you picks up on that vibe. There is an old saying that goes “hire for attitude, train for skills” – and it’s true – showing some enthusiasm and engagement wins every time.

Selling Hope

My brother recently sent me a quote from the Optimist’s Society, which I will get to in just a bit. I have always thought that one of the most important things a nurse can do for a patient is to offer the hope of a better future. This can be done by looking the patient in the eye and saying one of the two possible things:

“we can get through this”


“It doesn’t have to be this way. we can work together to make things better.”

each of these can be magic, especially if they are backed up with a plan. Frankly, to say a small prayer for yourself will often help the process along – I am happy to report that when my prayer life improved, my nursing care in difficult or challenging situations also improved.

Marie Manthey

There are nurses who have spent a lot of time working on how to offer hope and to be the kind of nurse people look up to. The most notable is probably Marie Manthey.  She has a WordPress Blog, too!  If you have ever been in a work setting where nobody helped each other and everybody seemed to have a chip on their shoulder, you probably wondered what it took to turn things around. Ms. Manthey was one of those persons who identified the results of poor work culture and developed tools to create an environment where nurses supported each other and a positive attitude turned things around. Bravo!

“Thank You”

This is a phrase I use a lot. Once when I changed jobs, at the new job I made sure to thank each of my coworkers at the end of the day. I literally said “Thank you for today. we did a good job, together.” At first they thought I had two heads. Then, tentatively, they started doing it too. And we could build from there. Work does not have to be grim all the time. You can start with a few small steps. Things like learning the names of the custodial staff at your workplace. and using the names. When somebody in a work group starts with an attitude of gratitude, magic happens.


any way, the Optimists Creed is the thought of the day.

Promise Yourself –

 To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

 To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

 To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

 To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

 To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

Imagine what your workplace would be like if this was the way everyone contributed.

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Part One “Getting Your Foot in the Door” for a nursing job

Jan 19th 2012 Update: link to a good blog on The Hidden Job Market, which is another angle on foot in the door…

Foot in the door

This is one in a series of blog entries written for young nurses. Take a look at the previous blogs about resumes, what to put in a cover letter, how social networking can hurt or help you, and ways to look at your portfolio. If you are a nursing student, you can start now to think about these things. Please share with others.

While you are at it, go to Amazon and buy the book I wrote about Global Health Nursing. It won’t help you in your job search but it will give you a window into a very different kind of nursing and it will help you remember the best reasons you chose nursing in the first place ( I hope).

The basis of the foot in the door strategy is simple:

A) In school: If the organization where you want to work hires ward clerks, nurses aides, billing clerks, etc, get a job there while you are still a student.

B) as part of school: If you want to work on a specific unit of a hospital, try to do clinical there through your school.


C) after graduating from school: If your target is a hospital which is not hiring for RN positions, apply for a job as a nurse’s aide or computer tech or anything, so you can become an internal applicant as opposed to an external applicant. Many large organizations will offer positions from within, first.

Let’s take these one at a time.

A) working part time while in school.

Nowadays it’s less usual to be a nursing student who does not work in some part-time job, somewhere, I’ve had students who worked as servers, telemetry techs, billing clerks and even as hula dancers at the big hotels on Waikiki.

You might as well be working in a hospital. Don’t underestimate the job of being a ward clerk. A ward Clerk will become familiar with the systems by which the hospital actually runs;  A clerk  gets into the chart everyday; and a clerk has a daily opportunity to become literate on computer systems such as EPIC or MediPro.

Here is a Pearl of Wisdom: Many of the older RNs nowadays don’t have the computer skills for EPIC are reticent about learning on the computer. The more you become proficient at EPIC or some other system, the more you can use this as a sales point for your resume. You are in the tech generation!

If it’s a nurses aide position, most hospitals will only hire you if you already have the Fundamentals course and some clinical under your belt, and often the state will require documentation that you have enough training to be equivalent. This varies state-by-state.

B) through school, as part of clinical, especially during the last semester

Future employment advice if you are doing clinical at a place you want to work later.

General advice: don’t only focus on the patient.

Oh, you need to do excellent patient care. You need to prepare well, be organized using a “nurse’s brain” and you need to be “on it” every day that you are there, using critical thinking and applying what you learned in class. But you also can benefit by adding some extras. You’d be surprised how students miss the little things: learning the names of the ward staff, (then following through by using people’s names when you talk with them), being polite to the housekeeping staff, (you can’t do your work without them!) and relating to the ward staff like future colleagues. On many hospital floors, the staff is already looking at you to evaluate your potential. Hate to put pressure on you, but it’s true. They are taking notes.

Specific advice for seniors:

Most schools nowadays incorporate a senior practicum, in which you are no longer in a clinical group, but are assigned to work one-on-one with a preceptor.

You don’t always get assigned to the floor you want, but that’s not the end of the world. There is strategy to apply here. For example, at one of our medical centers the Medical-ICU is considered to be the among the best placements; but they have never hired a new graduate and there is a waiting list of experienced RNs who wan to work there. So – you can get ICU clinical but it won’t lead to a job there.

If you don’t get placed in ER or ICU, it’s NOT the end of the world. My usual advice is actually to work on a Medical-Surgical ward, because the skills of organizing your day, setting priorities and making decisions about psychosocial issues are ones which apply to any setting. A few years back we had a student whose goal was to be a CRNA and he did his senior semester practicum in the O.R.  He enjoyed it, but it didn’t really help him learn the assessment skills he needed – he focused mainly on the surgery and on sterile technique. Right after graduation he got an ICU job, but did not do well there; I think he would have done better if he’d done medical surgical and gotten solid organizational skills. The O.R. seemed good superficially but turned out not to be a good “fit.”  Having a placement that meets your needs now is actually more beneficial than getting the dream placement if you can’t make the most of it. Have a heart to heart with the clinical placement coordinator as to what you really need, not just what you want.

The preceptor is critical. You need to know that when it comes time to apply for work there after graduation, about fifty per cent of the input as to whether you should be hired, comes from the preceptor. Recommendations, the interview, the cover letter? Nowhere near as important. When you apply to that hospital for a nursing job, highlight the name of your preceptor in the cover letter.

Read up on how to have a good relationship with your preceptor.  There are some great articles about your relationship with your preceptor on the Web.

The next thing is to consider work behaviors, and for that I have a story. Two years ago one of our senior  students took an ER job right out of school at the hospital where he’d done his senior practicum. This was a “success.” I asked him about it and he said:

“I took your advice”

Oh? ( couldn’t remember which advice he meant, I give lots of advice. What I am writing here is something I have preached for years, but don’t ask me to recall every single thing.)

“Yeah, I knew I needed to impress them with not just my nursing knowledge, but my work ethic. So, I never sat down when I was there. If there was something going on, I offered to help, but in the quiet times I did stuff like defrost the refrigerator, clean the nurse’s station counter with rubbing alcohol, and tidy things up. I didn’t brag about it, but everyone sure noticed.”

So what he was saying was, he was neat and cleaned up after himself, in addition to using checklists and following protocols. He was the kind of guy who showed up to lecture class or lab with a to do list, and I bet if I spoke to his mom he also made his bed at home and helped with the dishes and chores. ( I never did speak with his mom, this is a guess.).

Even if you don’t have your foot in the door, ask yourself whether you have this kind of attitude at which ever job you now have?


Situation C – getting an aide job *after* nursing school.

This blog is 1,316 words – long enough to digest in one day; I will break it in 2 pieces. The last part of foot-in-the-door is when a hospital has enough RNs but will consider hiring you as a nurse’s aide even though you have a BS and pass NCLEX.

Til then, share this with every nursing student you know, and Stay tuned!


Filed under nursing education, resume and cover letter, resume writing, Uncategorized

You graduated from Nursing School – now what?

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In a previous blog I wrote about having a personal “Board of Directors” and I said it was worth a million dollars.

It is. Every new graduate nurse needs to recruit their own personal Board, and keep one going, throughout their career.

What it is and what it is not

It’s not the same as having a mentor, and it’s not the same as using your friends as a sounding board. You will change mentors over the course of your career, and your friends probably are your own age with similar backgrounds, which is not what you want. A Personal Board of Directors needs to be diverse enough to give you the perspective you need. Ideally, your personal Board will have people with a broad perspective on trends, it will include people who work in areas other the health care, and they will be aware of your goals.

Your life does not just happen.

The basic idea is to conduct your life like it’s a business. In nursing school, the students study patient care to the exclusion of everything else. I personally love nursing as a career, but the single decision that set the financial difference in my life was that of buying a house back in 1983 which we later sold at a dramatic profit. Didn’t learn that in Medical-Surgical Nursing class!


Doesn’t look like much, does it? We bought in 1982 and sold in 1999. It came with 80 acres of land. It was bigger on the inside, and we filled it with love. Nursing school does not prepare you for real estate.

Prior to having kids we seemed to never be short on money; then with two kids we needed to budget. I had my job as an ICU manager for nine years; was it time to move on? How much to spend on a car?  There was nothing in nursing school  that covered how to make these decisions.

Should you use a Ouija Board?

Should you go to grad school? Should you change geographic location to get a better job? These last two decisions seem to be on the mind of every new graduate nowadays since the job market has changed, I think I have been asked this recently by a half dozen young nurses. When you get a nursing job, you will also make decisions about pensions and benefits. As a young person this always seem incongruous, but it has an impact waaaaaay down the road and there comes a time when it is closer and closer.

It’s not like a hospital gown

The answer to all these questions is that there is no single answer. Unlike hospital gowns, one size does not fit all. Once you have joined the procession down the aisle and been handed the diploma, you are ready to lead your life.

Now what?

The answer is, now you go ahead and lead your life.


My wish for your future career? happiness and joy away from work to create balance in your life. If you have kids, I hope they are as wonderful and amazing as mine were!

Who to ask to be on your personal Board

This is not like conducting job interviews. In many cases, you have already been getting advice from your parents, and they should definitely still be on the list of people. If you have a favorite past professor, that would be a good person to ask. If there is an auntie in your family who is a nurse, or any body with a background in nursing, ask them. For me, my “Board” includes

a) three of my siblings,

b) my parents (my dad is always frank and blunt),

c) my two daughters; ( when they were little we used to always take time to explain all financial decisions, then there came a time when we soilicited their input. I still do.)

d) two persons I taught with twenty years ago in Maine;

e) a nursing faculty in Florida who I knew when she was in Maine;

e) another nurse now retired who is also a Methodist Minister;

f) two guys I used to play music with, one of whom is a computer programmer and the other is a school guidance counselor; and

g) two friends from college who are now attorneys.

These are the core. I have other people I sometimes call, such as the widow of a doctor I used to work with thirty years ago.  Along my life, people tell me I am a very good networker. Being able to network with people is something every professional person needs to cultivate. In a past blog I said that nursing school is not just about the grades, it’s about the relationships. That is true in real life.


If you are not familiar with this term, you should be. It was intended to describe a company that puts all it’s IT department on the web. But one variation is to disperse the expertise you rely on, over the internet. You probably already use cloudsourcing. For a new grad nurse, I would define cloudsourcing as  asking cyberspace for the answer to whatever question you face.  When I wrote my book, I cloudsourced some of the editing, by sending sections off to some close friends and asking them what else I needed to include to make the description clear. Last summer I needed to write a report for a Medical School in Kathmandu Nepal, and I cloudsourced it, asking for feedback and editing from a bunch of people in USA. I blitzed through six drafts in three days, the finished product was very professional, and it made the impact I needed it to make. (please note, this was not the same as plagiary!)

You can cloudsource your personal Board. The idea is, they do not have to be people you see in person, they can still give you advice from far away.

One Key to having a Board

Once you have this group lined up, don’t expect them to tell you what to do. Their best role is to help you ask the right questions of yourself, or to help you figure out how you want to accomplish something. Their role is to help you cover all the bases when you are making a major move.

I am sure I will edit this in the next couple of days, but this is a start. I suppose the bottom line for every new grad is, to reach out to those around you, in every direction, and use all the resources out there, even if they do not pay off right away.

and lead your life.

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Getting your first nursing job

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Yesterday’s blog was about writing a cover letter, I said I would write resume tips today, but we need to back up a step first.

how Human Resources department does their job.

Applying for a job is a process, with many steps and decisions along the way.  As with the cover letter, there are some elementary housekeeping rules for a resume. The Human Resources department of any given agency, will need to systematically organize all documents they receive, including yours. Typically, they make a file for each applicant, which can be as simple as gathering an oak tag folder, stapling the checklist of minimal documentation to the inside, and then completing the file by inserting each document as it comes in.

Do the arithmetic

Let’s say the HR department is working to fill ten jobs. There are five applicants for each, and ten steps or documents to gather before each file is complete. Simple arithmetic will tell you that they are trying to keep track of five hundred pieces of paper at any given time. It’s one of the reasons that so many HR departments try to computerize their process, but in the meantime, you can ease things if you label everything clearly. If there is a job requisition number, be sure to put that on the resume and cover letter. If you send the resume as an attached file, be sure to use a sensible name for it, otherwise the HR department may have to rename it when they save. For example “resume for Joe’s class”  is not useful. “Smith, Janet, resume for staff RN position at QMC Jan 2012” is helpful.

Screening function of H.R. department

There is a saying out there that the HR department’s job is to screen you out, as opposed to including you in. For each job, especially entry-level ones, there is a deadline by which a decision needs to be made. Since they don’t know you, any decision have to be based on what they do happen to know. It is very easy for them to use the completeness of the file to decide which ones get forwarded or not. So – you can also help your case by tracking the documents from your side. If a written reference or transcript was required, did you followup with your team to see that it got sent?

If you are applying for multiple jobs at multiple hospitals, make a simple grid of all documents that might be required, and set up a system to track all correspondence with each agency or hospital. Make a file folder for each possible place. You yourself can track the documents.

Know the time frame and work with the timing

During the application or query process, it’s okay to ask about the number of positions available and the time frame for decisions to be made. Nowadays many of the bigger hospitals will conduct a formal orientation for new graduate nurses every few months, with a specific start date. They can only absorb so many new nurses at a given time, and if you learn about this, you can work the calendar backwards to get an idea of timing. In other words, if the orientation starts Monday the first of the month, the hospital needs to decide who is on the roster by the fifteenth of the previous month. In that case, your part of the deadline is to submit your documents two weeks before that date. A month before the time the orientation starts. As more requirements are needed, the lead-in time becomes longer.


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