By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN
If you’re like most student nurses, you’ve planned and dreamed about the day when you’ll begin your new career. But you don’t have to wait until graduation to take steps to ensure your current and future success which includes giving yourself a competitive advantage.. By implementing the following strategies, you can support your educational activities and start building a solid foundation for the future.
Get Active in the National Student Nurses’ Association
NSNA is an organization just for you. Locate your local chapter and get involved. When you join, you’ll automatically get tapped into a network of peers for support and camaraderie. NSNA offers educational programs and resources as well as wonderful opportunities for leadership roles and meaningful volunteer projects. The organization also offers scholarships and mentoring. Many schools will allow students time off to attend state and national NSNA conventions. Get out to at least one to experience the energy and excitement of these events. Active membership will look great on your resume; but more important, it will support you throughout your school years. Becoming active in nursing associations is a habit to get into early.
Join a Specialty Association as a Student Member
Although many students don’t know what specialty they’re interested in eventually working in, others have a specific interest early on. For example, if you think you’d like to work in the ED after graduation, you should join the Emergency Nurses Association as a student member. The dues for joining a professional organization are nominal for student membership in most cases, and there’s huge value. You’ll get the association publications, have access to “members only” sections of its website, and reap all the other rewards of membership. Some organizations offer scholarships, mentoring, and chat rooms where you can contact experienced members for advice, information, and support. Even if you only have a passing interest in a particular specialty, student membership in a related association will increase your learning curve.
Some additional examples of associations that offer student memberships are the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN); the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN); and the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN). Belonging to a specialty organization will also give you an edge in breaking into that specialty after graduation.
Look for Student Externships
Some health care facilities offer special programs designed for student nurses, usually during the summer. During the externship, you’ll work with experienced nurses, enhance your clinical experience, get exposure to various specialties, and start to become more confident.
Often you can choose the clinical specialty you’d like to work in, or you can rotate through different departments. Seek an externship in a specialty you’d like to learn more about or in a facility where you might like to work after graduation. This will give you a chance to become somewhat familiar with the facility, the people, and the way things are done there.
Consider Relevant Part-Time Work
If your schedule allows and your school permits it, consider working part-time in a hospital or health care facility. Many hospitals prefer to hire student nurses for nurses aides, patient care associates, emergency room technicians, and other positions. Not only will you have a chance to bone up on your clinical skills — you’ll have a chance to develop some autonomy and confidence working in an independent role. As with externships, it’s ideal to seek such employment in a facility and unit where you might like to work after graduation. Although there’s no guarantee you’ll get hired by that facility, it certainly will give you a competitive edge later on.
Have Business Cards Made
You don’t need to wait to have an RN after your name to have business cards made for yourself. Every student should have his or her own cards for professional networking. It’s never too soon to start making connections. Exchange cards when attending conventions, career fairs, and other networking events as a way to stay in touch with those you meet. Business cards are part of your professional image and are an important self-marketing tool. Have some cards printed up and carry them with you wherever you go. You never know whom you’ll meet where.
Use the above strategies to enhance your knowledge and experience while a student, build and support your professional network, beef up your resume, and give yourself a competitive edge. You’ll ensure your success and get started on the right foot in your nursing career.
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