While immersed in their studies, many students in nursing programs pay little attention to what their career will look like after graduation. School can seem like a desert island where the professional future for which you’re earnestly preparing is a dim mirage on the horizon. But preparations for your nursing career should begin on the first day of your nursing education.
When you sit down in that class on day one, you’ve officially begun to create your professional persona. Your professors and preceptors are your guides and mentors, and establishing positive relationships with them is critical to succeeding in both school and your career. I’ve seen many nursing students land jobs and interviews based on the impression they made on nursing professors, so understand that your professors are part of your professional network.
Moreover, your fellow nursing students also form part of your network. Some of this cohort may end up being your colleagues after graduation — even supervisors or direct reports. Develop positive relationships and exchange contact information with them at the outset. Likewise, the other nursing students and experienced professionals you meet while doing your clinical rotations may one day be your colleagues, so establish a good impression and stay in touch with them regularly.
You may already have an email address through your college, but create a Gmail account for your professional identity. You can set it to forward to your school account to help organize the various areas of your life, but be sure to use a professional email address like firstname.lastname@example.org. Moreover, your outgoing voicemail message should convey your maturity and focus. And if you don’t want to give out your personal cell phone number, create a free Google voice number instead.
If I tell you to have a business card printed while you’re in nursing school, you may think that it’s a little premature. A business card is valuable professional real estate, and you can imagine the pleasant surprise experienced by a healthcare professional who receives a business card from a nursing student. You’re demonstrating that you take networking seriously and that you want to remain uppermost in the minds of your colleagues in the event a professional opportunity arises.
There are many online websites where you can order business cards inexpensively, or you can have them printed locally. You need only include your name, title (“Student Nurse”), telephone number, email address, and the url of your LinkedIn profile (you can use bitly to shorten it).
In The Ultimate Career Guide for Nurses, nursing career guru Donna Cardillo says:
Every nurse needs to have a business card. Why? Because this is how professional people network and exchange contact information. Many nurses are under the impression that ‘business cards’ are only for those who own a business. On the contrary, they are simply ‘calling cards’ used for professional networking. Today, anyone who’s anybody has a business card, and every nurse is definitely somebody.
Even as a nursing student, you’re a somebody, and you need a business card to help make a professional impression.
Sure, a resume is something you know you’ll need when you graduate and enter the job market, but don’t you need one now (even if you’re just out of high school and entering college for the first time)?
Your resume is a constantly evolving tool, and it should reflect your current history of employment, education, community service, and other relevant experiences. If you’ve recently graduated from high school, you can use your employment and volunteer work, awards, activities, and other aspects of your high school career to populate it.
It may seem premature, but having “skeleton” cover letters and thank you messages on your computer will save you time when opportunities arise.While you’re in school, you may be applying for part-time work or volunteer positions that require a resume and cover letter, so having a draft of these prepared in advance will streamline the application process.
LinkedIn is the premier professional networking platform in the world, and having a robust network — both online and offline — will serve you well as you move forward in your nursing career. In 2014, Forbes Magazine emphasized the importance of LinkedIn for professional networking:
According to the Pew Research Center, LinkedIn usage is especially high among the educated (bachelor’s degree holders and up), and high earners (those making $75,000 a year or more) — exactly the types of people with whom you’d want to connect professionally. It is also the only social networking site Pew measured that showed higher usage among 50–64 year olds than among those ages 18–29, which means that those with more professional experience (and who are more likely to be in a position to hire) are on the site.
As you begin your nursing education, here are some preliminary steps you can take to use LinkedIn to establish your professional presence:
Join LinkedIn and create a profile
Use LinkedIn to connect with every professional you meet
Remember that you’re building a network to find employment opportunities after graduation, so get started now.
Preparing for your professional nursing career truly begins when you make the decision to apply to nursing school; once you enter the classroom, the proverbial rubber hits the road. From LinkedIn and business cards, to building a professional network among your professors, fellow students, and other healthcare professionals, it’s never too early to look to your future.
Starting a new career is scary and exciting. Channel your excitement into opportunities for networking and creating an enthusiastic and positive professional persona — you’ll be on your way to a successful career as a 21st-century health care professional!
Cardillo, D. (2008). The Finishing Touches. In The Ultimate Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career (p. 218). Falls Church, VA: Gannett Healthcare Group.
(n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from YouTube.
Shin, L. (2014, June 26). How To Use LinkedIn: 5 Smart Steps To Career Success. Forbes.