Growing demand for nurses makes it easy to believe that succeeding in nursing school and then landing a job is as simple as showing up with a pulse.
Talk about a misdiagnosis.
Yes, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees the need for nearly 600,000 new nurses by 2018, but employers and patients still want standout nursing students. Here's how you can become one of them and move to the head of your class.
Use Your Teachers' Tough Feedback to Improve
In nursing, the stakes are high, so your instructors' and clinical supervisors' constructive criticism is often blunt. But it might help you save a future patient's life.
"Your sociology professor never tells you your bedside manner stinks or your penmanship is sloppy," says Nancy Saks, RN, DNSc, chair of the nursing department at National University in California. "Nursing instructors give this type of feedback. A great nursing student receives it and improves."
Learn More Than What's Required
Standout nursing students master the profession's basic skills and actively push to learn more, says Jane Gould, president and CEO of Visiting Nurse Regional Health Care System, which employs home-health nurses throughout the New York City area.
"This student often goes beyond course requirements in their readings, raising questions, seeking to learn from their own and others' experience, and applying new learning in their clinical experiences," Gould says.
A great student "takes nursing education and makes it part of their life," explains Kathryn Tart, EdD, MSN, RN, associate professor of nursing at the Houston campus of Texas Woman's University.
Gloria Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University, describes one such student: Felicia Sode.
While doing clinical work at a local hospital, Sode received rave reviews from the staff. "She was not shy about asking questions when she needed to check with a more-experienced nurse," Donnelly says. "If she finished her work sooner than expected, she asked if there was more she could do or if she could be assigned to assist another nurse. She pitched in with the scutwork and took every advantage to converse with the staff about clinical issues and about their own careers."
The result: Sode "raised the bar for everyone," Donnelly says, and received two job offers months before her June 2006 graduation.
Demonstrate Responsibility and Accountability
"I have found that nursing students have a problem talking with and/or approaching a professor when they're not doing well in a class, and, moreover, the student often doesn't take accountability for their performance," says Beth Kaskel, ND, RN, director of Ohio Northern University's nursing program. Nursing students must show initiative -- just as nurses should when patients' lives are at stake.
Kaskel recently asked three students for their current grades in chemistry. None of them knew or had even asked. "A professional-practice nurse cannot behave this way," she says.
Show You Care
The nursing student who thrives in school and at work is the one "who not only provides the appropriate care but also invests in the patient," says Cathy Antonacci, PhD, RN, an assistant professor of nursing at Utica College in New York.
"This student is truly interested in how the patient is and wants to know what more he or she can do to promote comfort or a sense of well-being for the patient and their family," she says.