Nursing Students and Setting Career Goals

Nursing Students and Setting Career Goals

COVID-19 has been a game-changer for a lot of what we would consider normal life activities. Many nursing students are learning virtually now. But they still need to think about future career goals — even if they end up changing.

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a staff nurse in the ICU at Kaiser Permanente as well as the owner of Critical Care Academy, where he teaches critical care certification to aspiring ICU nurse. He is a preceptor and mentor to nursing students and took time to give advice to nursing students about how to set their career goals.

What are the first steps you would advise that nursing students take in order to outline their career goals?

The first step I recommend in outlining career goals is to take an honest self-assessment. Much like fingerprints, everyone has unique goals and aspirations that they need to fit with their obligations.

A good start is to outline short-term and long-term goals. For example, compensation is usually one of the first things nursing students think about as they get closer to graduating. This might be important in the short-term as student loans and other debts accrued during school must be paid back. But there may be more important factors to consider in the long-term such as autonomy, flexibility, or overall job satisfaction. Do you plan on traveling? Or do you plan on having a family? Most seasoned nurses would advise starting with long-term goals first. Focus on building your skillset, formal education, gaining experience, and finding your passion. The money will always follow.

Suppose they feel overwhelmed and aren’t sure what facet of the field they want to work in? What are some tips they can use to start defining what they want to do?

The great thing about most nursing schools—that are often undervalued—are the clinical rotations and internships. This is perhaps your greatest opportunity to experience first-hand how nurses in each field function. I didn’t know what field I wanted to work in until my last semester of nursing school when I watched a nurse in the ICU manage a very sick patient. Many of my colleagues fell in love with newborns and went on to work in the NICU. And many others enjoyed their skilled-nursing rotation and went on to work with the elderly population.

Once you begin each clinical rotation, try to imagine yourself in that role long-term. Then ask to be paired with a nurse in that facility who shares that same passion and observe their work. Most nurses are happy to share their career successes, and more importantly, career regrets. Take good notes here.  

What should they do when thinking about their first jobs? If they have strong feelings about working in a specific area, but can’t get a job in it, what should they do?

In the field of nursing, persistence pays off more often than not. Find creative ways—such as volunteer opportunities or local organizations to join to increase your visibility and establish rapport. Once you find an area that you are determined to work in, find out who the hiring manager is and make yourself and your intentions known to him/her.

It’s a good idea to keep your resume available and be ready for an impromptu interview. Chances are likely that they will ask others around the unit how they perceive your attitude, work ethic, and ability to maintain patient safety.  Nursing is a very small community and your reputation—good or bad—will quickly precede you.

Should they have mentors? Why?

Mentors can serve a pivotal role in helping nursing students to establish a career path and grow in any position. Even without a formal program or agreement, many seasoned nurses become mentors to newer nurses because advancing nursing practice simply depends on it. You should always be seeking opportunities to align with a preceptor or mentor in your chosen field. 

If they don’t have a mentor, how can they go about getting one? Should they simply ask someone they admire? Please explain. 

Finding a nurse to mentor you depends on a few factors. Perhaps the easiest way would be to search online through social media like LinkedIn or Facebook has a large nursing group called “Show Me Your Stethoscope.”

You should also consider joining a local nursing organization or chapter such as the American Association of Critical Care nurses. There are plenty of ways to seek out official nurse mentors through these channels, but be prepared to provide compensation.

Another way is to align yourself with a nurse during your clinical rotation or internship. Ask around the unit about who is available or would be willing to teach you about the job. Most nurses enjoy teaching students and watching them grow. Quite often a student develops a natural rapport with a nurse and a mentorship is formed. Just be sure to provide them with a return on their time investment. If you are eager to help me with my patient care or answering call lights, I will be eager to teach you whatever you want to know. 

What are the biggest mistakes nursing students should be aware of when they begin to outline their careers?  

Many nursing students make the mistake of “chasing the money” first. They may have several job offers in front of them and choose the one with the highest salary over the one with the greatest potential for growth and experience. You will quickly regret it when you lose those nursing skills you worked hard to achieve.

Another thing to consider is your education. It doesn’t—and shouldn’t—stop when you receive that nursing pin. Nursing is a career, but it’s also a calling. The profession is always evolving, and we are always learning more. This requires continuing education. Make sure you save a space in your life to continue your education an increase your value as a nurse.

Bridging the Gap from Nursing School to Nursing Practice

Bridging the Gap from Nursing School to Nursing Practice

Although nursing students get a lot of practice while still in school—through clinicals, special training, and the like—making the transition from classroom to patients’ rooms may be a tough one.

Nancy Congleton, RN, BLS, PALS and ACLS certified, has been a practicing nurse for 17 years. She currently works at the Ascension St. John Urgent Care Clinic in Claremore, Oklahoma, and is the author of Autopsy of the NP: Dissecting the Nursing Profession Piece by Piece. We asked her about how nursing students can bridge this gap between their schooling and their first jobs in the field and other advice to jumpstarting their careers.

What are the primary actions/ideas that nurses should keep in mind as they move from nursing school to nursing practice?

Nurses should keep in mind that they may not get the exact job they want as a new nurse. Here’s why: For one, while the nursing shortage is indeed broad, there are certain areas (especially within a hospital) that are popular and don’t frequently have open positions.

Also, there are some nursing specialties that require nurses to have previous bedside experience prior to applying. Within a hospital this can be the case with ERs and critical care areas. Outside the hospital, this can sometimes be the case with home health and hospice companies; they don’t want a nurse to be out in the field caring for a patient by themselves if they don’t already have a baseline of experience.

If you have to take a job in an area that you’re not particularly fond of, work hard, learn all you can, give it six months, and if it hasn’t grown on you, see if there’s an open position in your preferred specialty.

What are the most common challenges that nurses have in bridging the gap between nursing school and working in their first jobs? How can they overcome them?

In nursing school, students learn about one disease process at a time; one complication at a time. But in the health care setting, they’re caring for multiple patients with multiple co-morbidities. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and to feel like your head is swimming from everything that was crammed-in during nursing school.

And while nurses do have a license to practice, that doesn’t mean they remember everything from school. To help solidify your knowledge while working, I highly recommend having nurse pocket guides on hand. These serve as quick and concise reference guides. There’s several available: MedSurg, Critical Care, Psych, EKG, etc. For the convenience and what you get, they are well worth the investment.   

Also, in the early stages of one’s career, I recommend nurses jotting down anything they come across that they’re not familiar or thoroughly comfortable with. Later, look those items up and take notes.

Another challenge new nurses face is being completely overwhelmed with how many tasks need to be accomplished; this is especially true if you’re working on a busy floor.

Here’s the rule of thumb to survive this: Whatever patient or situation is most critical or has the potential to be most critical, you address first. For everything else, put one foot in front of the other, knocking out one task then another, and repeat until everything’s done.  

And lastly, a common challenge new nurses face is being inundated with questions from patients and their family members, and, more often than not the nurse doesn’t know the answer. This is okay! Even seasoned nurses are sometimes presented with questions they can’t answer. Just be honest, tell them you don’t have the answer but that you will find it and get back to them. And then do it!

If nurses find that they need help when navigating this first job, whom should they reach out to?

Their preceptor: The nursing profession places a heavy emphasis on utilizing the chain of command, so you want to start there. If a new nurse feels like their concerns are not being heard or responded to, the next person would be the floor/department manager.

What are nurses most concerned with when they are moving from school to practice? What can they do to alleviate their fears?

Many new nurses are concerned that they will mess up or miss something critical and will kill or harm a patient. Here’s what I recommend: Do not give any medications that you are not familiar with. Look them up and make sure you know and understand what they treat, possible side effects, adverse reactions, contraindications, and any needed patient teaching.

Next, any patient with a disease or condition that you’re not familiar with (whether it be their main diagnosis or just listed on their medical history), look it up and learn what complications are common for that condition and be on the lookout for them.

Additionally, any patient that has any abnormal vital signs or lab findings, move them to the top of your list in terms of completing their assessments first and checking on them frequently. This doesn’t mean that you ignore your other patients; you’re just prioritizing the care you give to focus on the most critical (or potentially critical) patients first over patients who are medically stable.

After doing all you can to be proactive, follow that with asking for help anytime a situation presents where you are uncertain what to do. In the beginning months, as a new nurse it may feel like you’re being overly-cautious, and you might even illicit a few chuckles from seasoned nurses but that’s okay. They’d rather you be over-protective of your patients, than miss something causing harm to a patient.  

What should nurses keep in mind to have the most success in their new careers?

Nurses should keep in mind that nursing school lays the foundation for their practice, but it is up to them to build on it. There’s simply not enough time in nursing school to cover everything. Therefore, when a new nurse chooses an area to practice, they need to thoroughly study all applicable textbooks related to that area. For example, if a nurse’s first job is on a pediatric floor, it would be highly beneficial to study the pediatric textbook cover to cover.

Later, if the nurse transfers to a different area of nursing, this process should start over.

What are the biggest mistakes they make that they should be aware of and try to avoid?

The biggest mistake a new nurse can make is to burn a bridge with a hospital by not giving the required resignation notice or worse, none at all.

I’ve heard of nurses who’ve hired on at a doctor’s office and had such a horrible experience that they resigned with no notice given. If it was truly an unbearable situation and the nurse knows they will never seek employment there again, they’ve lost nothing. Burn that bridge!

But, if a nurse burns a bridge with a hospital, they’re not just burning a bridge with the department where they worked. If a nurse fails to give a proper notice, most hospitals will put them on a “do not re-hire” list. Since hospitals have multiple departments that employ nurses, that nurse is actually eliminating anywhere from seven-to-twelve different possible job opportunities that they could have at that hospital at a later time. This equals a great deal of missed possibilities for years to come.

If a new nurse feels they absolutely must move on, provides a two-week notice and then is confronted with an exit interview, they should not in any way bad-mouth the manager, department, or the company.

Who’s on Top? Nursing Sites Release 2020 RN Program Rankings

Who’s on Top? Nursing Sites Release 2020 RN Program Rankings

The emergence of fall is a cue for annual Best-of lists, and and have obliged by releasing their 2020 rankings for the best RN programs. You can use the links below to access more details on the ranking lists or click on the name of a school to learn more about the top training grounds for RNs in 2020-2021. Best Associate Degree RN Programs for 2020

On, the judges consulted data from the National Center for Education Statistics, state Board of Nursing websites, and official school websites to select the best associate degree programs. Rankings are based on assessments of academic quality, first-time NCLEX-RN pass rates, school reputation, and affordability. To see full descriptions of each program in an area, click the region heading (e.g., Northeast, Midwest, etc), or see the complete list on… Clicking the name of a school will take you to the website for that school’s nursing program.

  1. Anne Arundel Community College – Arnold, MD    
  2. Northampton Community College – Bethlehem, PA
  3. Hagerstown Community College – Hagerstown, MD
  4. Community College of Beaver County – Monaca, PA
  5. Manchester Community College – Manchester, NH
  1. Washington State Community College – Marietta, OH
  2. State Fair Community College – Sedalia, MO
  3. Century College – White Bear Lake, MN
  4. Manhattan Area Technical College – Manhattan, KS
  5. Oakton Community College – Des Plaines, IL
  1. Northwest Florida State College – Niceville, FL
  2. Hopkinsville Community College – Hopkinsville, KY
  3. Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College – Orangeburg, SC
  4. Chattahoochee Technical College – Paulding, GA
  5. Arkansas Northeastern College – Blytheville, AR
  1. Mesa Community College – Mesa, AZ
  2. Laredo Community College – Laredo, TX
  3. Eastern New Mexico University – Roswell, NM
  4. Austin Community College – Austin, TX
  5. Blinn College – Brenham, TX
Western Region
  1. Western Nevada College – Carson City, NV
  2. Chemeketa Community College – Salem, OR
  3. Sierra College – Rocklin, CA
  4. Pierce College – Puyallup, WA 
  5. Saddleback College – Mission Viejo, CA 2020 Top Programs by State

The 2020 Best RN Program rankings are based on NCLEX-RN test results. The site obtained NCLEX-RN exam pass rates for all RN programs (ADN, BSN, Direct-Entry MSN) state by state “through several methods, including making a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.” To see the top-ranked schools in a given state, click the state name to access the list and descriptions of each program.





























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia



Helping Post-Traditional Students Succeed in a BSN Program

Helping Post-Traditional Students Succeed in a BSN Program

Heading back to nursing school can be tough for any student. But suppose you’ve been in the workforce for a while and have decided that you want to continue your education. If your next step is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, how can you attain the most success in a BSN program?

Valerie C. Sauda, PhD, RN-BC, CNE, MGSF, Chief Nurse Administrator/Undergraduate Director, Husson University School of Nursing, answered our questions on this.

First, how would you describe a post-traditional student who would be working on a BSN? Would these be working nurses who earned AA degrees? Please explain.  

A post-traditional student is a student who enters a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at any point in their academic career, but who may have transfer credits or life experiences that give them time to pursue the BSN degree.

What are the most important things for them to keep in mind when they are pursuing BSN degrees? What will be their biggest challenges and how can they overcome them?

When pursuing a BSN degree, you should consider the following:

  • Time. Are you able to have a work and personal schedule that will allow you to study from 3-4 hours daily? Do you have flexibility to adjust your work schedule to meet the demands of clinical and simulation hours for the program that you are interested in? Would you be able to work part-time and extra hours during college breaks to limit the number of hours that you are working while you are in classes? Most BSN programs require a full-time commitment, although there are some innovative programs across the country designed for working nursing students to pursue the BSN degree.
  • Personal support network. Do you have a personal support network of family and friends who can help you with groceries, laundry, or babysitting (if you have children) so you can study or participate in class, labs, or clinicals?
  • Financial resources. This is probably the number one issue of concern for most nursing students pursing their BSN! Be sure that you maximize your financial aid resources through the college or university’s Financial Aid office, and look for scholarships and grants can really make a difference in your ability to be successful in the BSN program of your choice. 
  • Organizational skills. Having a good sense of organization and making sure that you can create a daily and weekly to do list and stick to it, can really be beneficial as you start a BSN program.

If they need help, whom should they ask?  

Colleges and BSN programs across the country are well-equipped to help with navigating the college environment. Each program is connected to a financial aid department that can help with financial resources. Campuses also have an office of advising or student success where you can get assistance in mapping out a plan for success as you enter the BSN program. The School of Nursing itself also offers support through web-based chats or email in addition to open houses. Asking for help is essential for your success in a BSN program!

What are the best tips you would give for how they can remain successful while earning this degree?  

Here are my top three tips for success. First, study hard. Use tutors, online course study resources, extra lab practice times, and faculty support to help you focus and reinforce your study. Second, be kind to yourself. Nursing school is challenging and balancing your work habits with your personal life is essential. Finally, take care of yourself.  Stay healthy by eating right, exercising, sleeping, and pacing your work. These can really make a difference in your success.

What if they find that they are overwhelmed balancing work, school, and family? What should they do? 

Most nursing students experience some feelings of being overwhelmed at some point in the nursing program.If you are feeling overwhelmed, speak with your academic nursing advisor or use counseling or student success services on the campus. Often, a little outside assistance can help you gain the support you need to reorganize and stay on track.

 If other nurses want to help these types of students (if they work with them), what would you recommend they do? 

Offer tutoring support and give kind words of encouragement. Each nurse has experienced the demands of a nursing program and can probably share stories of failure as well as success. Other nurses can also give students the motivation and grit they need to carry forward with the program. Be a mentor!

Is there anything else you think is important for our readers to know? 

Before entering a BSN program, be honest with yourself about the amount of time it will take to successfully complete this degree and understand how it will potentially affect your personal and work life. Wanting to be a nurse is an important first step. After that, potential BSN students need to carefully analyze whether this is the best time for them to enter a BSN program. Exploring your options and making sure that you have a full understanding of the program you’re entering, will help you better plan for your ultimate success in a BSN program.

Should You Pick an Online Nursing School? Here are Four Things to Consider

Should You Pick an Online Nursing School? Here are Four Things to Consider

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt life and studies on college campuses, enrolling in an online nursing program is probably an increasingly attractive option. If you are pursuing a career in nursing, understanding the differences between online nursing schools and campus-based ones will make it easier for you to decide. Here are four things you should consider at the outset:

1. Technology Has Come a Long Way

In the past, only a certain portion of nursing school curriculum could be taught online. The reason for this was because of limited technology. Nurses would still need to be involved in various labs to get the practicum necessary to graduate.

As schools around the country have enhanced their technology, it makes it easier to attend a school of nursing completely online. It offers an immersive curriculum in order for students to understand the various topics.

Particularly within the past decade, web-based teaching has increased considerably. It allows teachers to answer questions live and allow students to work with one another in team settings. This is being seen not only in nursing schools but throughout all of higher education.

Even students who did not grow up learning on computers have found that they are able to embrace online learning. Nursing systems, specifically, provide online tutorials, use 3D images, and other enhanced programming in order to make up for what would traditionally be lost from a face-to-face classroom environment.

2. What Nursing Lab Options Would Work Best for You?

Throughout nursing school, labs are a significant component involved in teaching. It allows students to understand how they will need to work with doctors and patients in order to perform on the job daily.

In a classroom, students will have the ability to simulate real-life situations. They can “act” as a nurse in order to perform the necessary activities. Whether it’s to draw blood, conduct the lab on a patient, or save a life, they will have the ability to walk through the various steps in person.

Online, simulation labs are available. There are plenty of universities getting creative with how they are going to train students filming various scenarios and using ambulance and flight simulators can make it easier for students online to feel as though they are in the moment. It enables students to think about their approach, communicate, and take action.

Although some of the virtual clinical simulation labs are a culture shock, it allows online students to get the same level of education as those who are in the classroom.

Additionally, some schools provide the opportunity for both in-person and online courses. This would allow you to take some of the lecture courses online while still being able to go into the classroom for the labs. It comes down to deciding what you are most comfortable with – and what a particular school offers.

3. Looking for On-Campus Experience, or Convenience?

Online nursing schools offer a significant amount of convenience. It allows you to get the education you want without having to consider the distance to the nearest campus. As long as you have access to WiFi, you have the ability to attend your classes.

Some classes allow you the added convenience of being able to log in at any time within a 24-hour period to listen to the lectures. You can work the assignments on a schedule that works for all that you have going on in your life. Other classes, however, may require that you log in at a certain day and time.

Beyond the location of the school and the timeframes, you also have the benefit of being able to work in a more independent environment. More specifically, for adults that are considering going back to school, many prefer an online environment once they become familiar with the technology. It can boost confidence as they don’t have to worry about having their age being questioned while sitting in a class with students half their age.

4. What are Your Learning and Career Goals?

Everyone has the opportunity to choose the type of nursing school program that works best for them. When you decide that you want to become a nurse, you will need to find a certified program that allows you to work within the environment you feel the most comfortable in.

While online programs provide a significant amount of versatility and convenience, some people prefer to interact face-to-face with the professors and their fellow students.

As you explore the different programs, you will want to look at the intensity of the simulation labs. Ask questions about the technology used to ensure that you get the level of education that you deserve. Once you graduate from a program, whether it is online or in-person, you will be expected to have a full understanding of the curriculum you have been taught. As such, if you are going to engage in online labs, it needs to be on a level where you can translate that information to doing it in person.

Regardless of what you decide in terms of the type of class, you’re given the same curriculum. Further, you have to decide on the kind of RN you wish to be. Nursing schools will give you access to courses that focus on various specialties:

  • Neonatal
  • Dialysis
  • Critical care
  • Pain management
  • Trauma/ER
  • Psychiatric
  • Pediatrics

With over 100 specialties out there, you can focus on simply being educated as an RN or decide to dive into one of the specialties. You can always cross-train between some of the specialties, too. As you become more familiar with the options, you can work on customizing your curriculum to ensure you get the right education for the type of nurse you are passionate about becoming.

Evaluate Your Priorities and Explore Your Opportunities

Don’t be afraid to explore the opportunities that are provided to you by a college or university, whether it is online or not. Ensure it is going to support your career goals.

As long as you can pass the NXLEX-RN exam to prove that you have met the requirements to work as a nurse in the US and you have passed an English language competency exam, you have the ability to work all across the United States.

The first step is deciding that you want to be a nurse. You don’t have to attend and graduate from an Ivy League college that is not only far away but also expensive. You simply have to obtain the necessary education to become a registered nurse – and there are plenty of opportunities out there.

The choice is yours. Attend online or in person. Online nursing programs have evolved dramatically over the past few years, allowing you to get a comprehensive education in a way that is convenient (and affordable) for you.

For more information on planning your nursing career, visit this link: Nursing Career Opportunities.

2020 NSNA Virtual MidYear Conference Starts Next Week

2020 NSNA Virtual MidYear Conference Starts Next Week

ANA president Dr. Ernest Grant is the keynote speaker at the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) Virtual 68th MidYear Conference: The Challenge of Change this year. The virtual conference takes place October 29-31, 2020

In addition to Dr. Grant’s keynote address, the conference (which is being hosted online by SpringerPassport) will feature poster presentations, a live NCLEX-RN Review, networking opportunities with prospective employers and schools in the Exhibit Hall/Career Development Center, special discounts at publisher and NCLEX vendor exhibit booths, a virtual yoga session, and more. Live interaction in the Exhibit Hall begins at 7pm EDT on October 29; visit the schedule for details on all live event times. Attendees can also take advantage of the virtual format to access video recordings of programs and exhibits at their convenience (recordings will be available for three months post-conference).

Tips for a Successful NSNA MidYear Virtual Conference

Poster presentations featuring school and state projects by NSNA Chapters and individual members will be available through the online Project Showcase. Presenters can apply here. The application deadline is October 25, 5:00pm EDT.

Registration for the NSNA’s 38th MidYear Conference is open through October 31, 11.30pm EDT. Members who register by or before October 13will receive a $15 Early-Bird Registration Discount. Prior to registering you will need to have your membership number and/or credit card handy. NSNA members and sustaining members must provide their membership number when they pre-register for verification purposes.

The NSNA fosters the professional development of undergraduate nursing students and provides them with opportunities to develop their leadership skills and prepare for lifelong involvement and continuing education in the nursing profession. The association currently has over 60,000 members in 1,500 nursing programs across the US. Visit for information on membership, scholarships, the NSNA Career Center, and association activities.

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