Nursing is an excellent field for people who are empathetic and caring with a genuine desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It’s also a great field if you like the idea of having a variety of career options. When making hiring decisions, employers will consider a job candidate’s nursing experience, as well as their academic credentials, licensure and certifications.
This raises the question of how to get nursing experience while you’re still a student. There are many options for both high school students and current nursing students to pursue. While you’re working toward your academic credentials, remember to simultaneously pursue experiential learning opportunities to bolster your resume.
What you'll find in this nursing experience tips guide:
- Gain Valuable Experience in Nursing While Still in High School
- How To Get Relevant Experience While Earning a Nursing Degree
- Tips for Landing Your First Job After Nursing School
Gain Valuable Experience in Nursing While Still in High School
If you’re still in high school, there are many steps you can take right now to prepare for your career and enhance your employment prospects after nursing school. Volunteer positions, internships and summer jobs in the healthcare field can all help you prepare and bolster your resume.
Before you start thinking beyond the classroom, however, it’s a good idea to meet with your guidance counselor to discuss your course schedule in light of your career plans. Future nurses should take as many math and science classes in high school as possible. Try to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and keep your GPA up. Your academic record will be key in gaining admission to nursing school.
Outside of school, there are plenty of experiential learning opportunities to be found. You can explore a few of these options below.
Nursing Job Shadowing
One great example of an experiential learning opportunity is job shadowing. This involves following a nurse or other healthcare professional as they go about their day. You may be able to shadow a nurse for a few hours in a day. On the other hand, you may be able to arrange a longer shadowing program in which you would shadow a nurse for up to a week.
To find job shadowing opportunities, you’ll need to be proactive. Start by talking to your guidance counselor about your options. Next, take the initiative to call local healthcare facilities to ask for permission to shadow a nurse. When you do land a shadowing opportunity, be sure to arrive wearing professional, yet comfortable clothing — and bring a notepad with you.
Another way to gain experience in nursing while still in high school is to look for local volunteer positions. Volunteering at a hospital or other healthcare facility is an excellent way to get an inside look at the goings-on of a typical nursing setting. Plus, your volunteer experience will look great on your college application.
One way to find a volunteer position is to check online job boards. You can also visit the websites of local healthcare facilities and look for a “careers” or “volunteering” link. Many healthcare employers welcome teen volunteers, who can perform valuable work by providing information to hospital visitors and assisting staff members with nonclinical duties.
In addition to job shadowing and volunteering, you can pursue a part-time or summer job to gain experience in nursing while still in high school. Any type of part-time job in a medical setting would be excellent experience for you. Here are a few examples:
- Environmental services technician – These workers are responsible for maintaining the sanitation of the healthcare environment. Sanitation is extremely important in hospitals and clinics because patients can be highly vulnerable to acquiring infections. Environmental services technicians support the recovery of patients by ensuring the cleanliness of their rooms, exam rooms and other areas.
- Dietary aide – Dietary aides are responsible for preparing, portioning and serving meals to inpatients at hospitals and long-term care facilities. Attention to detail is important here, as many patients are on specific, restricted diets, such as very low sodium diets or very low fiber diets. Dietary aides are charged with ensuring that each patient receives the meals prescribed by their physician.
- Personal care assistant (PCA) – A personal care assistant provides non-medical assistance to people living at home who need extra help, such as the elderly and those with cognitive deficits. PCAs can run errands, provide companionship, clean and provide assistance with personal hygiene tasks. The majority of PCA positions do not require licensure or the completion of an accredited training position. However, PCA positions at federally funded facilities or agencies do have stricter eligibility requirements. In many cases, though, PCAs are simply provided with on-the-job training by their agency or facility.
All of these jobs have a low barrier to entry, meaning that high school students can often qualify to fill these positions. Although these positions don’t involve clinical duties, they will give you a solid introduction to the healthcare field. Landing one or more of these types of jobs would also give you invaluable experience to list on your college applications and, later, your resume.
How To Get Relevant Experience While Earning a Nursing Degree
There are different types of nursing students. If you move on to nursing school immediately after high school, you’ll likely be in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. If you’re returning to nursing school after having earned an associate degree in nursing and your RN license, you’ll be in an RN to BSN program. In addition, professionals who graduated with a degree in a different field can decide to transition to the nursing field by earning an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) degree.
Regardless of which nursing degree you’re earning, you can expect to spend long hours studying, as the curriculum will be intensive. You’ll also have lab classes and, after completing general education courses, you’ll begin doing clinical rotations.
There will likely be little time to pursue a part-time job in healthcare during the school year, although you might consider committing to a volunteer position that requires only a few hours per month. Otherwise, it’s likely that you’ll begin looking for ways of gaining nursing experience during your summer break.
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The clinical rotations themselves will also give you invaluable nursing experience. At many nursing schools, nursing students begin clinicals during their sophomore year. You’ll be placed at a participating healthcare facility and assigned to your supervisor at a particular department or floor.
During each clinical rotation, you will be responsible for caring for the patients assigned to you. You may need to answer the call button, implement the treating physician’s orders and administer medications. It’s important to note that clinical rotations are not at all like job shadowing. Your supervisor will be there to answer your questions and oversee your work, but you will not be shadowing your supervisor; you will be the person in charge of caring for your patients.
Along with successfully completing your clinical rotations during nursing school, there are many possible pathways for how to get nursing experience before earning your degree.
Here’s a look at some of the types of summer jobs you might pursue while in nursing school:
Summer Camp Nurse Assistant
As a nursing student, you won’t yet qualify to become a summer camp nurse. However, you might qualify to pursue a role as the nurse’s assistant. You’ll work under the direction and supervision of the camp nurse, performing duties such as cleaning and dressing wounds and distributing medications.
This position is particularly ideal for nursing students who are thinking of going into pediatrics after graduation. Plus, it makes a great summer job because it’s seasonal by nature. Do note that you’ll almost certainly need to be certified in pediatric CPR and first aid.
If you’re thinking about specializing in cardiac care, you might look for a position as a monitor technician. Monitor techs are responsible for handling cardiac monitoring equipment and alerting nurses or physicians about any abnormalities. For instance, at a cardiac rehabilitation program, patients recovering from a heart attack are commonly put through stress testing to see how their heart responds to exercise.
In addition to working at cardiac rehab programs, monitor technicians may be employed at intensive care units (ICUs). The requirements to become a monitor technician can vary significantly from one employer to the next. Some employers may require the completion of a course or a certificate program, while others require only on-the-job training.
No matter which nursing specialty you plan on pursuing, a part-time job as a phlebotomist can be a great learning experience for you. Phlebotomists are responsible for drawing blood from patients, typically for the purpose of medical testing. Becoming a phlebotomist while in nursing school can help you master the science and art of venipuncture.
The requirements can vary considerably. Some employers may require only a high school diploma and on-the-job training for new phlebotomists (having at least a year or so of nursing classes under your belt can also help you qualify), while others require phlebotomists to complete a non-degree certificate program. It’s also helpful to have excellent communication skills and a good bedside manner; after all, many patients are nervous about having their blood drawn.
Pursuing a summer job as a psychiatric aide could be the right move for you, especially if you’re interested in specializing in mental health nursing. Psychiatric aides work at inpatient mental health facilities under the direction of nurses and physicians. There is a low barrier to entry, as psychiatric aides typically need only a high school diploma and some on-the-job training.
As a psychiatric aide, you would be responsible for observing and tracking patients’ behaviors and helping them participate in group activities. You’ll also help patients with the activities of daily living, such as meals and personal hygiene.
Tips for Landing Your First Job After Nursing School
After you’ve earned your nursing degree and license, it’s time to begin job hunting. The following tips can facilitate a successful job search:
- Improve your resume. Make sure your resume is as professional-looking and tightly worded as possible. It’s a good idea to take advantage of your school’s career services department, which likely offers resume assistance.
- Practice your interviewing skills. While you’re meeting with your school’s career services team, schedule an appointment to do one or two mock interviews.
- Be receptive to alternative healthcare settings. Many new nursing school graduates first consider hospitals and clinics for employment possibilities. However, there is a broad range of healthcare settings out there that need RNs. Consider exploring job options at hospice agencies, inpatient drug treatment facilities, correctional facilities, schools and universities. You might even consider applying to a position aboard a cruise ship or at an amusement park.
- Tap into your professional network. You began building a professional network right from the first clinical rotation or part-time health-related job you undertook. Now, it’s time to tap into it. Talk to your contacts and let them know you’re looking for employment.
- Consider being geographically flexible. If you love the idea of seeing new places and meeting new people, consider becoming a travel nurse. The travel nurse life is particularly well suited to new graduates, who are less likely to have started a family yet. Begin researching various travel nursing agencies, which can connect you to temporary job opportunities all over the country.
The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at Grand Canyon University offers a number of undergraduate, graduate and certificate nursing programs for current and future nurses. These include our Bachelor of Science in Nursing: Pre-Licensure, Accelerated (ABSN) degree program. The ABSN degree is ideal for professionals with a degree in another field who would like to transition to nursing. Explore our individual nursing courses to learn new skills or help meet prerequisites for a nursing degree program.
Approved by the Associate Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Dec. 12, 2022
1Cannot be used in conjunction with other GCU scholarships or awards.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.