Life after nursing school is something a lot of nursing students don't really think about.
One of the reasons is because nursing school is so rigorous that student nurses focus on the day-to-day. Very rarely worrying about what their steps or goals might be after they graduate.
If it hasn't crossed your mind about what you're going to do after nursing school…no worries.
Below I've compiled some of the most important things you need to think about before you graduate…or after graduating from your nursing program.
*Disclosure: This article on life after nursing school may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. For more info, please see my disclaimer.
Life After Nursing School Means…
1. You Have to Pass the NCLEX Exam
You have your nursing degree from your nursing program, but your nursing career doesn't quite begin until you pass the dreaded NCLEX exam.
The NCLEX is the gatekeeper for the nursing profession and while I would love to tell you it's going to be a breeze to pass, it's not.
Don't get me wrong, it's doable. So many students before you have passed, but it will require you to stay focused and dedicated a little while longer.
I've written many articles on how to be successful on the NCLEX, so you can use the search bar on the site to find them. Just search for “NCLEX,” and you'll see all of them.
Here's a few resources you can check out.
- How to Pass the NCLEX the First Time
- The NCLEX Prep Course I Recommend
- What to Do if You Fail the NCLEX
- Go Here to Find a Tutor for the NCLEX
2. You Might Not Get Your Dream Job
Even though medical-surgical nursing is recommended for new nurses by both faculty and older nurses, many students do not want to go down that route. (Read why I don't think you have to start med-surg as a new nurse.)
Instead, aspiring nurses opt to go into nursing specialties like ER nursing, OB nursing, or ICU nursing.
I don't blame them. I'm not particularly a big fan of med-surg myself and have gone out of my way to avoid that nursing field.
The issue with seeking out those specialties is that many other graduates are also wanting those sought-after areas, and because of that, many students will end up not getting the dream job they want.
I know that might be surprising to you, considering the media talks a lot about the nursing shortage. The thing about that is that it really depends on what part of the country you live in.
In some areas of the country, it's not uncommon for a new grad nurse to spend their life after nursing school job hunting for a couple of months.
In the end, sometimes you have to take what's available to you. Once you're in a position, start networking to open doors that will get you closer to the unit you want to be in.
You might not be able to get into that ICU position you want right after nursing school. But you might be able to get into that step-down position.
After getting some step-down experience, it would give you a better chance of getting into the ICU.
2. You Might Have to Accept Your First Job Offer
Let me first say when starting your nursing job, you should always try to negotiate your salary (even if you're a new grad). I've said that numerous times and I still stand by that statement.
But here's the thing unless you have prior healthcare experience, you're probably going to have a hard time negotiating your pay when you're hired.
The reason for that is because when negotiating salary, it helps if you're coming from a position of strength (i.e., a lot of nursing experience).
As a new grad nurse, you lack the experience. Therefore it's unlikely you will be negotiating from a position of strength. Most likely, you'll get a “no” on a higher starting pay, and that's ok. You should still try anyway.
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3. You Must Continuously Show Your Worth
Even though you're unlikely to have a lot of leverage on your starting pay, you'll have opportunities to show your worth. Life after nursing school demands that you do so.
After you get the job, it's not time to go on cruise control. You have to be about your personal brand as a nurse, in other words, how you represent yourself to others.
After graduation, you're going from showing your professors that you're GOING to be a competent and good nurse… to showing your employer that you ARE a competent and good nurse. (Further Reading: 20 Essential Qualities of a Good Nurse)
It doesn't just stop there because if you want to get the nice raises, promotions, or recognitions you don't just have to show you're a competent and good nurse you also have to show you're so much more than that.
You have to show you're worth a lot more than that starting pay they gave you.
If you want to move up in pay look for reasons to make yourself valuable to the organizations.
- Is there an extra certification you can get?
- Can you be cross-trained for a different area?
- Are you that person that everyone wants to work with because of your work ethic?
- Or personality?
- Do you show up where you need to be and on time?
The other reason this is important is that it's a way for you to bettering yourself and your craft.
If you keep doing that, even if your current employer doesn't value what you bring to the table, someone else will because it will make you so much more marketable.
4. You Have to Deal with Your School Debt
Be mindful of how much debt you have.
Because of the exponentially increasing costs of higher education (nursing programs included), many college students take out student loans.
Those student loans allow the nursing student to pay for their ADN or BSN program or make ends meet while attending school.
While taking out a loan to pay for a nursing program might be at times a necessary evil, you still need to keep track of the amount of student loans you have and when you'll have to start paying those loans back.
You'll be tempted to ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist. This will be made worse when you see your friends on social media taking vacations or buying new cars.
I want to encourage you to not fall into that trap.
Depending on your situation, you might be one of those with a couple thousand to well over six figures in debt, and as overwhelming as it might be, try to formulate a game plan.
Otherwise, you could be shackled with that heavy burden of student debt for decades to come.
Here are some resources you might find helpful for tackling your student debt.
- I wrote an article on some of the best ways to pay off your nursing student loans. You should check out that linked article.
- Read the book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.
- Hire a financial advisor to help you set up a budget on how to manage your finances. You can also read this article on budgeting tips for nurses.
5. You Might Need to Further Your Education with More Schooling
Furthering your nursing education is a wonderful goal, but it's not for everyone. Getting your MSN or DNP and becoming a nurse practitioner or a nurse anesthetist can give you a lot more options in your career.
The downside is that it's more schooling, and depending on what your personal and financial situation looks like, it might not be the best track for you.
If it something you want to pursue, make sure you start thinking about it and forming a game plan.
6. You Have to Deal with “Grownup” Problems Such as…Retirement
After nursing school, you need to start looking at where you're at for retirement and start saving.
If you're young, it's never too early to start (it's actually a good thing because compounding interest starts working for you longer), and if you're older, it's never too late.
If you have already started saving, keep saving. If you haven't started saving, then you must start.
Most experts would say to save about 10-12% of your income for retirement, depending on when you start. If your employer has a matching 401k, even better. Take advantage of that free money!
If you're struggling with saving for retirement or anything related to managing your finances, go here to find a personal finance advisor.
7. You get to Celebrate
That's right! You've made a big accomplishment graduating nursing school. Don't forget to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of your labor over the past couple of years.
It's Just the Beginning
While you might be coming to an end of your nursing student journey…your journey as a nurse is only just beginning.
How do you plan to celebrate life after nursing school? Don't forget share this article with your classmates.
Here are some related articles on life after graduating nursing school.
- Must-Know Tips for New Medical-Surgical Nurses
- 10 Tips for Getting Your First Nursing Job
- 5 Best Jobs for New Nurses
- What I Wish I Knew as a New Nurse
- 15 Must-Have New Nurse Essentials
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions you might have over this article. Let me know in the comment section below if you have any other questions.