The demand for nurses is increasing, boosted by an increase in the number of insured Americans under the Affordable Care Act and an improving economy that is creating a surge of retirements. Nursing is the fifth most popular occupation in the U.S. and registered nurses represent the single largest segment of the healthcare workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Competition can still be tough to get hired at high-profile medical facilities — particularly right out of school. Three recent Samuel Merritt University (SMU) nursing grads working at top Bay Area hospitals share what they did to land their dream jobs.
Pave the road ahead through new graduate residency programs
Both Michaela Carlson and Gracie Salas won coveted jobs in intensive care units at Stanford through nurse residency programs for new RNs that are on the rise once again.
Carlson says the program will help transition her into a professional nurse role because it provides online learning modules, in class seminars, and in-person trainings in addition to working on the floor with a preceptor.
Growing up in the Bay Area, Carlson was aware of the prestige of Stanford University Medical Center. She says she came to understand what makes Stanford a top healthcare facility while studying in SMU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
“As someone who is dedicated to lifelong learning and improvement, I felt Stanford mirrored many of my personal values and aspirations through constantly educating on the latest technologies and medical advancements,” she says.
Request clinical placements at your dream hospital
Salas now works at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, the same hospital where she did her senior preceptorship in the neonatal intensive care unit for SMU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
“All of my friends who precepted in the ICU had more of an advantage to being hired in any unit because more critical thinking is required there,” says Salas, who also suggests that students take notes about their patient encounters that they can later recount during job interviews.
Corrina Jung, who grew up in Oakland, wanted to work in a pediatric hospital in her community so she requested to perform both her SMU pediatric rotation and senior preceptorship at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
“I knew that it was a place that is very sought after so I knew I had to advocate for myself by working hard, studying hard, and make it known to my professors and clinical instructors that Benioff was my end goal,” Jung says.
She says working at Benioff as a student also gave her the opportunity to interact with the staff and managers there.
“Not only did networking really help, I think just knowing what your worth is and to truly believe that you can get there is what had pushed me to speak out and to ask for help to get me there,” says Jung, who now works in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
Stand out among other applicants with personalized recommendations
Carlson said carefully answering job application questions with well-written responses as well as sending personalized letters of recommendation from her clinical instructors were key to her getting a job interview at Stanford.
“I think that is really important being that you have to find a way to stand out among hundreds of other applicants and through a computer screen,” she says.
Her recommendation letters from clinical instructors included information about her undergraduate and athletic background. “They really made a difference in showing how not only my clinical performance makes me a worthy candidate, but how my past experiences contribute to my nursing practice,” says Carlson.
She suggests that students request those letters early, before even thinking about applying to position, so instructors have time to write them.
Seek practice interviews
Salas says doing practice interviews “makes or breaks you.” She credits Kathryn Ward, SMU assistant director of student services, with proposing potential questions — some of which were actually asked during her interview.
“I felt much more confident going into it,” she says.
Carlson says she prepared her clinical examples using STAR, a structured method of responding to a behavioral-based interview question by describing a specific situation, task, action and result. She says she repeatedly practiced her answers with others, but also in front of a mirror to help with her eye contact and body language.
“I am not good at speaking in front of others, and my voice shakes a little whenever I would have to do presentations in class, so I wanted to make sure to practice my responses out loud and time them to make sure they were roughly two minutes,” says Carlson.
Pay close attention to interview requirements
For her first group interview, Salas says she paid close attention to the rules and followed them. She did not bring in any papers — not even her resume — and limited her answers to two minutes or less. She even adhered to a directive not to send any thank-you emails.
“Pay attention to the small things,” suggests Salas.