Charge Nurse Role: What You Need To Know

Charge Nurse Role: What You Need To Know

Charge Nurse Role: What You Need To Know

One of the most important things to know about being a charge nurse is that effective communication and strong leadership skills are essential. As a charge RN, you will be responsible for coordinating the activities of the nursing staff, ensuring proper patient care, and addressing any issues or conflicts that arise.

The functionality of the nursing unit depends on having a charge nurse with the skills to lead. Great charge nurses are known for keeping the department organized and running efficiently while encouraging great teamwork and inspiring a team of nurses to perform at their best.

“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” -John Maxwell

What Is A Charge Nurse?

A charge nurse, also sometimes referred to as a charge RN, is a nurse who oversees an entire team of nurses in a particular hospital unit or department. They serve as a liaison between nurses, upper administration, nurse educators, and other hospital clinicians.

Charge RNs are needed to manage hospitals, residential care facilities, nursing homes, surgery centers, and outpatient units. Although they can give direct patient care- and often do if the unit is short-staffed – they mostly work peripherally to bedside nurses and within a more administrative role than medical professionals.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities usually have several charge nurses who are responsible for various health services managers in different departments and specialties.

Charge Nurse Duties And Responsibilities

Some duties include the following:

  • Managing nurses
  • Supervising and assisting nursing staff when needed
  • Providing administrative support
  • Assigning nurses to patients
  • Creating nurse schedules
  • Managing the in and outflow of patients to a unit
  • Being flexible and responsive to nurses’ needs on the unit
  • Prioritize patient care needs, especially during urgent or emergent situations
  • Document nurse performance
  • Work with upper administration to address any hospital issues or issues with staff

Other ancillary charge RN roles might include:

  • Checking the crash carts daily in the unit
  • Counting medications in the Pyxis or other automated drug dispenser once a shift
  • Working with the facility’s patient placement
  • Attend a daily staff meeting with social workers, physical therapists, nurse practitioners, and doctors to make sure patients get what they need for discharge and ensure a timely discharge

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan

How To Become A Charge Nurse?

To become a charge RN, you must already have several years of nursing experience and a deep understanding of the workflow and population where you work. You need to master your nursing skills and, if possible, become as involved as possible with team-building activities in your workplace.

It is also imperative that you express your desire to be promoted to management and ask them precisely what you need to do to earn the position.  Each facility is different.

Note:  It is more challenging to start as a charge RN on a unit where a nurse has never worked before, even if they have many years of nursing practice under their belt. It helps to know many of the nurses already personally, as it helps to build trust as a leader. Knowing other ancillary medical professionals, such as respiratory therapists, social workers, case managers, nurse practitioners, and doctors on the unit, will also help you get started on the right foot.

Tips To Prepare For A Charge Nurse Role:

  • Become certified in your nursing specialty
  • Master your workflow as a nurse
  • Become an expert on nursing skills needed in your unit
  • Offer help to other nurses whenever you can
  • Become a preceptor for new nurse graduates on the unit
  • Express your desire to be promoted into a charge nurse role to administration
  • Take leadership classes, either online or through your facility if they have them
  • Join the Unit Practice Counsel UPC – if your unit has one
  • Offer to help in all team-building projects on your unit

The Difference Between A Charge Nurse And A Unit Manager

A unit manager is sometimes referred to as a unit director. And while both charge RNs and unit managers are leadership positions, they are still very different positions and require different levels of education.

A unit manager oversees the entire nursing unit, including all of the charge nurses. Unit managers also handle more of the business management of the unit than charge RNs do. Also, unit nurse managers typically work more closely with the upper hospital administration to keep the unit aligned with the goals of the entire organization.

Charge nurses must have an ADN or BSN to hold the position.  A unit manager often holds a master’s degree (MSN) or higher, usually with an emphasis on leadership and hospital management.

Additional recommended reading:  Travel Nursing 101:  The Pros, The Cons, And How To Get Started

What Is A Charge Nurse’s Salary?

Charge RNs often make a few dollars an hour more than floor nurses.  However, there are many other factors at play when it comes to earning potential.

The salary of a charge nurse can vary depending on several factors, including geographic location, years of experience, level of education, certifications, and the specific healthcare setting. In general, charge nurses earn a higher salary compared to regular staff nurses due to their additional responsibilities and leadership roles.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for registered nurses (which includes charge nurses) was $76,600 as of May 2021. However, it’s important to note that this figure encompasses all registered nurses across various specialties and positions.

Nurses in states with a higher cost of living, such as California or New York, usually make a higher hourly wage, while other lower cost of living states, such as North Dakota or Iowa, might make less than the median U.S. pay.

It’s best to consult reliable salary resources specific to your location and healthcare system to obtain more accurate and up-to-date information on charge nurse salaries. Additionally, factors such as overtime pay, shift differentials, and benefits can also impact the total compensation package for charge RNs.

Qualities Of A Great Charge Nurse

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”  –

John Maxwell

There is no question that a charge nurse’s role is extremely challenging at times. But a great charge nurse needs to be able to see through the stress and inspire other registered nurses to rise above and perform at their best. Here are three qualities of a great charge nurse.

Resilience – When the work gets tough, great charge nurses get even tougher and push through.  Some days will seem impossible, but resilient leaders persevere.

Emotional Intelligence – The dictionary describes emotional intelligence as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and sympathetically.” Many great leaders say emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success.

Decision-making capabilities – Charge nurses need to be able to make quick decisions. The hospital setting moves quickly, and patient safety depends on taking action fast, especially in an emergency.

Certifications To Be A Charge Nurse

To become a charge nurse, you must first be a registered nurse who has graduated from an accredited program. There are several ways to do this – including achieving an associate degree  (ADN), a 2-year degree, or a bachelor’s Degree In Nursing (BSN), which takes a minimum of four years to complete.

While many of the same topics taught at the ADN level are covered in a BSN, a four-year program will provide a deeper set of skills and education. The field of nursing is becoming more competitive and more employers require newly appointed RNs to hold.

There are no national or state certifications to become a charge nurse. However, many charge nurses are certified on the specialty floor where they work. In most cases, the charge nurse worked as an R.N. on the floor for several years and has a clear understanding of the clinical setting and how the unit functions.

Charge Nurse Career Outlook

According to the BLS, the nursing profession is expected to grow by 6% from 2021-2031, which is about as fast as average. That means that there will also be plenty of opportunities for nurses to take on charge roles.

Charge Nurse Frequently Asked Questions

What is the charge nurse’s role?

A charge RN is a registered nurse who takes on additional responsibilities and leadership roles within a healthcare setting, typically on a particular shift or unit. Their primary responsibilities include overseeing the nursing staff, coordinating patient care, and ensuring the smooth functioning of healthcare facilities in the unit.

What is the difference between a charge nurse and a regular nurse?

The main difference between a charge RN and a regular RN is the additional responsibilities and leadership role that a charge nurse assumes. While regular nurses focus primarily on direct patient care, charge nurses have supervisory responsibilities and coordinate the activities of the nursing staff.

Who is higher up than a charge nurse?

In the nursing hierarchy, a charge RN typically falls below a nurse manager or a nurse supervisor. Nurse managers or supervisors are responsible for overseeing multiple units or departments and have broader managerial responsibilities.

What power does a charge nurse have?

Charge nurses have the authority to assign patient care responsibilities to other nurses and healthcare professionals. They coordinate admissions, admissions and discharges,, and transfers, ensure proper documentation, address any conflicts or issues that arise during the shift, and serve as a resource for the nursing staff.

Is a charge nurse over an RN?

A charge nurse is an RN who takes on additional responsibilities and leadership roles. While a charge nurse is an RN, they have specific responsibilities related to overseeing the unit and coordinating patient care, which regular RNs may not have.

Is a charge nurse your boss?

A charge nurse may have some supervisory responsibilities over other nurses and healthcare professionals on the unit, but they are not typically considered the direct boss of the nursing staff. They work alongside nurse managers or supervisors who have broader administrative responsibilities and managerial roles.

How long does it take to be a charge nurse?

The timeline to become a charge RN can vary. Typically, it requires several years of experience as a registered nurse to develop the necessary skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities. Some charge nurse positions may also require additional education or certifications. The exact duration depends on an individual’s progression and professional development.

Is it hard to be a charge nurse?

Being a charge nurse can be challenging as it involves juggling various responsibilities, managing the nursing staff, coordinating patient care, and addressing any issues that arise. It requires strong leadership skills, effective communication, critical thinking, and the ability to multitask in a fast-paced environment. However, with experience, ongoing education, and support, many nurses successfully take on the role of a charge nurse.

Do charge nurses take patients?

Charge nurses may or may not take direct patient assignments, as it depends on the specific policies and needs of the healthcare facility. In some cases, charge nurses may have a reduced patient load to allow them to focus on their administrative and supervisory duties. However, in other situations, charge nurses may continue to provide direct patient care while also overseeing the unit.

Who gets to be a charge nurse?

The criteria for becoming a charge nurse can vary among healthcare facilities. Generally, charge nurses are experienced registered nurses who have demonstrated strong clinical skills, leadership abilities, and the ability to work well with a team. They may also receive additional training, clinical experience, or education related to management or leadership.

Is charge nurse a promotion?

Yes, becoming a charge nurse is often considered a promotion within the nursing profession. It represents an advancement in responsibilities and leadership roles compared to regular nursing positions.

What are the weaknesses of being a charge nurse?

While charge nurses have important responsibilities, they may face challenges such as balancing administrative tasks with patient care, managing conflicts or difficult situations among the staff, dealing with high levels of stress and responsibility, and working long hours or irregular shifts.

Nurse working on a unit taking notes

What Are The Most Important Things To Know About Being In A Charge Nursing Role?

The most important thing to know about this position is that it requires strong leadership skills and the ability to multitask effectively. As a charge RN, you will be responsible for overseeing a team of nurses and ensuring the smooth operation of the unit or department.

Here are some key points to consider:


As a charge RN, you need to provide guidance, support, and direction to your team. Strong leadership skills are essential for effectively delegating tasks, making decisions, and resolving conflicts.


Clear and effective communication is crucial in your role as a charge nurse. You’ll need to communicate with various healthcare professionals, patients, families, and your team. Being able to convey information clearly, listen actively, and provide feedback is essential.


The ability to stay organized is vital as a charge RN. You’ll be responsible for coordinating patient care, managing resources, and ensuring that tasks are completed efficiently. Prioritization and time management skills are essential.

Clinical Expertise

Charge nurses are expected to have a solid clinical foundation and expertise in their specialty area. This knowledge allows you to make informed decisions, provide guidance to your team, and respond appropriately to patient needs and emergencies.


You’ll face various challenges and unexpected situations. The ability to think critically, make quick decisions, and problem-solve effectively is essential. You should be able to remain calm under pressure and adapt to changing circumstances.

Teamwork and Collaboration

Building a positive and collaborative team environment is crucial for charge RNs. Foster open communication, encourage teamwork, and support your team members. Collaboration with other healthcare professionals is also important for coordinated patient care.

Continuous Learning

Healthcare is an ever-evolving field, and it’s important to stay updated with the latest evidence-based practices and advancements in nursing. Pursue opportunities for professional development, attend conferences, and stay informed about current research to enhance your knowledge and skills.

Remember that being a charge RN is a significant responsibility, and it’s important to maintain a balance between leadership and being a supportive team member. By focusing on these key aspects, you can excel in your role and positively impact patient outcomes and the overall functioning of the healthcare unit.


Taking on higher leadership positions in health care, such as charge nurse, can help you create a satisfying and long-term healthcare career, earn a higher salary, and open up more opportunities away from the bedside.

Best of luck in your nursing career!

Additional recommended reading:

How I Prepare For A 12 Hour Shift

How I Prepare For A 12 Hour Shift

*This post contains affiliate links/ Updated from 12/2017

Preparing for 12-hour shifts as a registered nurse requires some prearranged groundwork and organization at home to ensure my day starts off on the right foot. As a working mom, I know I will be gone for a large chunk of time, so I do my best to make sure things are properly set up at home the day before.

Additionally, as a nurse, I know how important it is that I take good care of myself so I can continue to give the best possible care to my family and patients.  After all, I can’t expect others to listen to me when I talk about health about staying healthy if I don’t take my own advice.

How I Prepare For a 12-Hour Shift

#1. Prepare All Meals In Advance

I grocery shop every three days so I am able to prepare meals for my toddlers and for each of my 12-hour shifts at the hospital in advance.  To avoid scrambling at the last minute, I always make sure everything is ready and packaged to go the night before.

I prepare several options for the kids’ breakfasts, lunch, and dinner, including:

  • Avocado or almond toast
  • Bananas, apples, kiwis, various berries
  • Black bean or chickpea pasta
  • Cheese squares
  • Veggies straws with hummus
  • Veggie/fruit smoothies
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Sautéed veggies

In addition, one day per week I make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and keep it handy in the fridge for quick meal preparation. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh, or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. This is so convenient because I can whip something up quickly for my work lunches, and I also have it on days I’m home with the kids.

The Nutribullet Is My Favorite

In fact, I use it at least once or twice a day!  I make everything from veggie smoothies to salad dressings, to soups and blended coffee drinks.  It makes my life so much easier, especially now that we have kids and time is limited.

In the mornings, I make a vegetable and berry smoothie with one tablespoon of Maca powder, flaxseed and/or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach, and kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, although sometimes ill add half a banana or mango.

I also make several mason jars of overnight oats on Sundays with a variety of flavors:

  • Blueberry/strawberry/raspberry
  • Peanut butter and maple
  • Banana and walnut
  • Almond and raisin

I either add ground flax seeds or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. And I’ll top it with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!

The Nutribullet


#2. Sleep As Much As Possible Before a 12-Hour Shift

Let’s be honest – 12-hour shifts usually end up being closer to 14+ at the end of the day.  And many studies show that working 12-hour shifts are damaging to nurse health due to the length of time that nurses end up working. In fact, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers have all been researched and publicized.

Since the shifts are not getting shorter anytime soon, the best thing that nurses can do to take care of themselves is to rest as much as possible before shifts. Therefore, I make it a huge priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep before shifts.  (This was so much easier before we had kids!)

A Few Things I Use To Help Me Sleep Better At Night:

Eye Mask and Earplugs

After having kids, I realized that I am an incredibly light sleeper.  In fact, even the slightest noises wake me up in the middle of the night.  And sometimes, I have difficulty falling back asleep again, which is so frustrating when I work a 12-hour shift in the morning.

Blackout Sleep Mask 


♥ Over 6,700 global reviews/ 4.6 out of 5 stars

Restorative Yoga Poses

I keep a yoga pillow and a yoga mat right next to the bed that I use for restorative yoga poses about 20 minutes before I try to go to sleep.  It helps decompress me from my day, check in with myself, and put me into a snug and sleepy mood.

Heathyoga Eco-Friendly Non-Slip Yoga Mat


♥ Over 3,400 global reviews/ 4.8 out of 5 stars!

AJNA Yoga Bolster Pillow -100% Organic Vegan Suede


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#3. Exercise On Days Off

I always feel so much better when I get my heart rate up on my days off. The benefits of exercise have been well documented and are essential for nurse self-care.  It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood, and decreases stress levels.  Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also helps nurses have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.

Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.  Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver’s burden and help you feel your best.

For me personally, yoga has been a total game-changer for my stress levels.  But it’s also great to change up the routine a bit, and I enjoy escaping with my headphones for a run and listening to music.  Whatever you do is great as long as you actually do it!

#4. Wear Compression Socks

These don’t actually help me prepare for a shift; however, they are super important!. Those who know me, know I’m a stickler for compression socks.  Wearing compression stockings helped me work all the way through two pregnancies and I continue to wear them at work to this day.  They help keep your legs energized, prevent varicose veins, and keep your ankles and feet from getting so swollen after being on your feet all day.  Plus, they come in the cutest styles now.

6-Pack Compression Socks


♥ Over 50,000 global reviews/ 4.5 out of 5 stars


Nurses play a crucial role in the healthcare industry and are essential in providing quality care to patients. However, in the midst of their demanding and often stressful work, nurses tend to neglect their own health and well-being.

It is important for nurses to prioritize self-care and take the necessary steps to maintain their physical, emotional, and mental health. This will not only benefit you personally but also ensure you can continue to provide excellent care to your patients. Therefore, it is imperative that nurses recognize the importance of self-care and make it a priority in their lives.

Thanks, and best of luck!

How To Prepare For A 12-Hour Shift Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prepare my body for a 12-hour shift?

Preparing your body for a 12-hour shift is important to avoid fatigue and reduce the risk of injury. Here are some tips:

  • Get enough sleep the night before.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay hydrated.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes and clothing.
  • Take breaks and stretch throughout the shift.
  • Practice good posture and ergonomics.
  • Stay mentally alert with activities like listening to music or podcasts during breaks.

What should a 12-hour nursing shift eat?

A balanced diet is important for nurses working 12-hour shifts. Here are some tips for healthy eating during a long shift:

  • Eat a nutritious breakfast before your shift.
  • Bring healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, or vegetables to eat throughout the day.
  • Pack a balanced lunch with protein, whole grains, and vegetables.
  • Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary drinks and excessive caffeine.
  • Avoid heavy, greasy meals that can make you feel sluggish.

How far does a nurse walk during an average 12-hour shift?

Nurses can walk several miles during a 12-hour shift, depending on the unit and patient population. On average, a nurse may walk between 4 and 6 miles per shift.

How much sleep do I need for a 12-hour shift?

The amount of sleep you need for a 12-hour shift will vary depending on your individual needs. However, it is generally recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

How to survive three 12-hour shifts in a row?

Surviving three 12-hour shifts in a row can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you manage:

  • Get enough sleep and rest between shifts.
  • Stay hydrated and eat nutritious meals.
  • Take breaks and stretch throughout the shift.
  • Prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends and family.
  • Use your days off to rest and recharge.

What are the disadvantages of nurses working 12-hour shifts?

Some of the disadvantages of working 12-hour shifts for nurses include:

  • Increased risk of burnout and fatigue.
  • Difficulty maintaining work-life balance.
  • Increased risk of workplace injuries.
  • Potential negative impact on patient safety and quality of care.
  • Potential negative impact on personal relationships and mental health.

Why are 8-hour shifts better than 12-hour shifts for nursing?

Some of the advantages of 8-hour shifts over 12-hour shifts for nursing include:

  • Lower risk of burnout and fatigue.
  • Easier to maintain work-life balance.
  • More opportunities for education and training.
  • Lower risk of workplace injuries.
  • Potential for improved patient safety and quality of care.

Additional recommended reading:

Travel Nursing 101: The Pros, Cons, and How to Get Started

Travel Nursing 101: The Pros, Cons, and How to Get Started

Nurses often want to know the pros and cons of travel nursing before making a colossal life-altering career decision.  If you have been considering travel nursing as a potential career trajectory, this article is for you.

Travel nursing offers an opportunity for career growth.

For anyone who dreams of entering the healthcare field to help others but doesn’t want to be tied down to working in a single facility, becoming a travel nurse is an appealing option. As a travel nurse, you can spend your days working in different facilities in your immediate area, taking care of patients in their homes, or providing skilled nursing services as needed in different parts of the country—or even the world.

In a lot of ways, travel nursing is amazing. That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t any potential drawbacks. If you are considering a career in travel nursing, keep reading to learn a bit more about the pros and cons, and how to get started.

Additional recommended reading:   The Pros And Cons Of 12 Hour Shifts

Travel Nursing Pros

Let’s start with the good stuff. As a travel nurse, you will have the opportunity to live in various towns and cities throughout the nation. In some instances, you may even get to travel to exotic locations in other parts of the world. You’ll get to meet new people and immerse yourself in unfamiliar cultures.

When you work as a travel nurse, you quickly gain valuable work experience. You can gain knowledge that would likely take you years to learn in a single location in a matter of months. And if you don’t love your current nursing job, accepting a travel position can provide you with an easy way to escape.

As a travel nurse, you’ll be able to take more time off throughout the year as you choose. You have a higher degree of flexibility and control over your schedule than you do when working at a single facility. Because travel nurses work through staffing agencies, you will have the opportunity to try out potential employers before committing to a full-time position.

Travel nursing is always in high demand.

Travel nurses have a high level of control over where and when they work, so they often have the freedom to go where they want to go, when they want to go. You may even be able to find work in a specific city when you know there is an upcoming event that you would like to attend. Or you could accept an assignment near a friend or family member’s home if you would like to visit them for a few days (or longer).

Travel nurses are in high demand, too, so there are often attractive sign-on bonuses and other incentives that tend to make this career path look pretty appealing.

Travel Nursing Cons

The pros of working as a travel nurse are numerous, but there are also some drawbacks that you should be aware of when you are trying to decide whether it’s the right career for you. For starters, it doesn’t offer the same sort of stability as you would expect in other nursing positions. As a travel nurse, you are classified as a temporary employee, which makes it much easier for your employer to terminate your working relationship. Being classified as a temporary employee can also make it more challenging to collect unemployment benefits if you are terminated.

While you may have more flexibility in terms of taking time off, you shouldn’t expect that time to be paid. Paid time off is rare for travel nurses and, even when it is available, it’s usually tough to qualify for.

When you take on a new assignment, there will usually be onboarding requirements that can be quite time-consuming, and in many instances, they’re unpaid. Travel nurses also tend to move around a lot, which can make it challenging to build and maintain personal relationships.

Last, if you have what the IRS considers a “tax home,” many of the reimbursements and stipends you receive as a travel nurse are non-taxable. This may seem like a good thing because it means more money on your paycheck. However, it also means a lower gross income on paper. This could be problematic in the eyes of loan officers or when you reach retirement age.


You can meet nurses from all over the world as a travel nurse.

Getting Started as a Travel Nurse

For many people, the pros of being a travel nurse outweigh the cons. If it still sounds like a career that you would be interested in, you will need to have the appropriate qualifications to get started. Most travel nurses are RNs, so you will need to have completed nursing school and become one before you are qualified for the job. Some agencies also work with LPNs, but you will have a much easier time being placed if you are an RN.

Keep in mind that you will need to be licensed to work in states other than your own. If you do not have the proper licensing to work in a state where you would like to be assigned, however, your staffing agency should be able to help you obtain it.

You usually need to have some experience working in a traditional nursing position, too. Before you can start traveling across the country as a nurse, you’ll need to spend a year or two (at minimum) working in a hospital or another facility. If you plan on working in a specialized field, such as ICU or labor and delivery nursing, additional bedside experience may be required.

Of course, you’ll also need the general supplies that are required for nurses. Do some research to discover the best shoes for nurses, find scrubs that are appropriate for the climate in which you will be working, etc.

The Bottom Line

Life as a travel nurse can be challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding. If you think this career path is right for you, now is a great time to start preparing for your future. Whether you prefer to keep your travel distance relatively small or you dream of helping patients throughout the entire country, when you look and feel your best in your favorite scrubs and are committed to reaching your goals, anything is possible!

Adela Ellis, RN

Adela Ellis is a full-time nurse and part-time ambassador for Infinity Scrubs. Adela attended the University of Arizona and has been a travel nurse for the last six years. She enjoys working with different doctors, nurses, and patients from all over the country and blogging about her experiences. In her free time, she loves true-crime podcasts and cooking for friends and family.  

Additional recommended reading:

How To Get Your First Nursing Job: 6 Steps

How To Get Your First Nursing Job: 6 Steps

You did it!  You finally graduated from nursing school. 

Now it is time to put all of your clinical and critical thinking skills to work so you can start helping patients. But first, you need to land your first nursing job.  

Unfortunately, though, even when you have all of the skills needed to be a great nurse, finding your first RN position doesn’t always come easily.  This may come as a shock to many new nurse graduates, especially since the US Bureau Of Labor Statistics states job openings in healthcare are supposed to increase by 14% from 2018-2028

The good news is that once you get your feet wet as a novice nurse, subsequent nurse jobs won’t be as challenging to find because you will already have the experience on your resume.

In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to land your first nursing job successfully. Good luck!

Research the different types of nursing specialties

Pediatric nursing is one of the many specialties that nurses can go into.

Focus your job search in specialties that interest you.

Do you want to be involved in a fast-paced hospital setting? Or, would you prefer working with older individuals in a senior center? Perhaps you have your heart set on working in pediatrics or on a postpartum unit? 

Alternatively, you may want to consider working in the ICU, emergency room, operating room, or on a med-surg floor unit.  There are so many directions that your nursing career can take.  

Some specialties require that you have additional certifications.  For example, you must have your PALS, ACLS, and EKG training to work in most emergency rooms.  It may be worth your time to invest in getting them before you interview for the position.  Achieving certifications beforehand show that the interviewer that you are both qualified for and serious about getting the job.

Do an internship through your nursing program (and consider it an interview for a job!)

All of your clinical experiences in the hospital as a student nurse are potential job opportunities after you graduate.

One of the best places to get more information on how to gain experience is through your school or nursing program. Often, they’ll have internships with area hospitals or clinics, where you can get hands-on experience working around other nurses.

Some schools even have programs that allow their nursing students to work there during nursing school.  It can give you a leg up if an opening for a new graduate becomes available.  

Additional recommended reading:   Why I Quit My Corporate Sales Career To Become A Nurse

Find a nurse graduate program that is hiring

Apply to the nurse graduate or nurse residency programs in your area

If you’re fresh out of nursing school, you might find it frustrating when every job post you see suggests that they require experience. After all, how are you supposed to gain experience if no one will hire you?

Many hospitals have nurse graduate programs or nurse residency programs that will hire a handful of new nurses once or twice a year.  These programs are tailored to the novice nurse who needs training about and beyond what a more experienced nurse would need.  These programs are anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months and are an excellent way for new nurses to get better experience and training then they would otherwise.

Brush up on your interviewing skills

Brush up on your interview skills so and impress the employer with what you have to say!

You need to shine during your interviews. Having a successful series of interviews is key to getting your first nursing job.

The University of Southern California suggests that employers need to use more psychological tools in their hiring process. They focus on things like revealing strengths, encouraging self-awareness, and cognitive ability tests.  It is essential to have a clear understanding of what employers are looking for in the interview process so you can show your strengths and skills with more clarity.   

Most importantly, practice as many interview questions as you possibly can before your interviews.  There are many books online that are full of potential interview questions for nurses.  Grab a nursing school friend and interview each other.  Practice answering the questions out loud. 

Let everyone know you are looking for a nursing job

Put yourself out there and let everyone know you are looking for a new nursing job

Nowadays, it’s not always enough to apply for a job online or in-person and expect a phone call in return the next day. Over 165,000 people graduate from nursing school each year, and they are all trying to land their first job that same way you are. 

Sometimes, it’s not what you do but who you know. Reach out to family and friends for any job leads. Contact your nursing school or alumni association to see if they know of any positions to hospitals that are hiring. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there wherever and whenever you can to talk about potential leads for your career. You never know who might have the right connections that can help you to get your foot in the door. 

Write a professional thank you note the day of your interview and then follow up with them a week later

After you crush your interview, don’t forget to follow up.

You must write a thank you note to the people you interviewed with after the interview.  Thank them for taking the time to speak with you and write a sentence or two reminding them about why you are the right person for the job.

It may take them a while to get back to you. The hiring process at many institutions can take several weeks or even months.  Many institutions interview hundreds or thousands of nurses every year, and the process can take a lot of time. 

One thing you can do to be more proactive is to write a follow-up email about a week after your interview.  Be professional, tell your interviewer that you are still really excited about the position, and ask when you might receive any follow up about the next steps in the hiring process.

In conclusion

Take pride in your career choice, and understand that the job hunt is not going to be easy. But if you can successfully make it through nursing school, then you can do just about anything! No matter where you end up working, you will find a unique opportunity to help people who need your help.

The right nursing job for you is out there.  Stay motivated and keep working hard.  Good luck!

Additional recommended reading:

How I Became A Emergency Room Nurse

How I Became A Emergency Room Nurse

Two weeks ago I was writing about how I wanted focus on trying to relax a little more and work a little less.

But life is so unpredictable. Just when you think things are going to be a certain way, a new opportunity spontaneously presents itself.

For the past year my RN title has been Resource Nurse, Float Pool. Essentially this means that I am a resource nurse for short-staffed units and I can float to any Med/Surg or Telemetry unit in the hospital. Soon my skill set is going to get an upgrade.

Soon I will be training to be an Emergency Room Nurse.

Stethoscope in the shape of a heart

Emergency Room nursing is a whole new challenge for me.

I was recently selected to be in a new cross training program in our Emergency Department. Apparently they have some staffing issues and want to make sure they have trained Resource Nurses to help fill in the gaps.

In a few months I will be an Emergency Room Nurse at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital! Yay! Wait, wasn’t I just talking about not working so hard?  Yup. Isn’t this program going to be stressful, exhausting and require a lot more work? Yeah, pretty much.

But opportunity is knocking and I’m going to go ahead and open the door. This is the first time this kind of cross training opportunity has ever been available at my hospital and I would be remiss to pass it up. In return, I get to expand my nursing prowess and make myself more marketable in my field.

I’m a nerd. I admit it.

If I’m not constantly learning or doing something new I get board pretty easily.

That partially explains why I left a lucrative career to go back to college for a second bachelors degree in nursing at the age of 32. I talk a little more about that here.

Back in my nursing school days I wanted to go directly to working in the ER or ICU after graduation. I had the desire to challenge myself right off the bat by caring for the most critical and vulnerable patient populations. But first I needed a job.

Nurse Residency programs are the place to be for a new grad.

As graduation approached I was frequently reminded that most new grad RN’s had a slim chance of getting excepted into a nurse graduate residency program. In fact, I knew of many RN grads who had been out of school for over a year and were still waiting to get their first job. This was due to the fact that there was a large surplus of graduate BSN’s coupled with a very limited number of nurse graduate residency programs available. From what I hear from new grads today, the problem still exists.

"they may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

Patients never forget how their nurses made them feel.

To not have employment after 3 years in nursing school was definitely not OK for a gal graduating with 35k in student loan debt!

Since there are more Telemetry and Med/Surg Floors in most hospitals I thought I would have a better chance of just getting my foot in the door if I started there. So to maximize my chances for employment I asked to interview for ANY Telemetry unit position that was available in the entire hospital.

Fortunately my gamble paid off. Shortly after I applied to the nurse residency program at UCLA I started my nursing career on a Neuroscience and Stroke Telemetry Unit. I stayed on this unit for about 4 years and became certified in the specialty.

I still love Neuroscience and I’m so glad I started my nursing career there. Even though I have moved on to other things, I still feel like it is my home.

I’m back in school again. Sort of.

I’m back in student mode. I’m quickly finding out that becoming an Emergency Room Nurse requires an extraordinary amount of study and training. Just this week I completed Pediatric Advanced Life Support Certification (PALS) and Adult Certified Life Support Certification (ACLS).

Last week I shadowed two RN’s in the Liver Transplant ICU and Pediatric Unit to briefly introduce me to the specialties. This is because in the ER I will be working with Pediatrics as well as doing Trauma and Critical Care. Both are new specialties for me.

Next week I start orientation and will meet the preceptors who will help train me for the next 3 months. Then I start the 50+ hours of additional classroom training. I guess I will be doing a lot of studying after I put my daughter down to bed in the evenings.

Training to be an Emergency Room Nurse in a Level 1 Trauma Center will be very challenging to say the least. But I’m ready for it. It is amazing what opportunities arrive when you are least expecting them.

I’m sure I will have many tales to tell about the madness as an Emergency Room Nurse. Stay tuned!

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love