Back in 2014 Megan Lyell went public with her struggle to find a position as a graduate nurse.
After seven months being unemployed, “a hundred, if not more” applications submitted, and 17 job interviews, she finally got her first nursing job at a GP clinic in mid-2014.
Now entering her fifth year of professional nursing, Megan reflects on some of the issues she identified, and still sees, for graduating nurses, plus shares some advice for job-seeking new graduates.
Be pragmatic over first job choice
Like many nursing students, Megan had her heart set on a specific course and was working towards a career in paediatrics. So when in her final year she filled out her Nursing Entry to Practice (NETP) application on the ACE Nursing website, she highlighted paediatrics as her desired field.
However, after seven months without work, on reapplying to ACE Nursing for the mid-year NETP intake, she changed her first choice to community nursing. Since then, Megan has spent a year as a practice nurse, a year as the school nurse for Rangitoto College, and is in her third year as a public health nurse.
For nurses approaching graduation, she says it can pay to be pragmatic about which practice area they apply for. For instance, it may be easier to get a job in less popular areas such as geriatric care or an AT&R (assessment, treatment and rehabilitation) ward.
Even if you want to end up in an area such as paediatrics, it is often more realistic to get some experience and work your way into your preferred area than it is to get a job there straight out of school, says Megan.
Her own journey also illustrates that a winding path can lead you to jobs that you hadn’t considered, but you may love. For instance, having initially set her heart on paediatrics, Megan says she now can’t imagine herself leaving community nursing, having seen the difference it makes.
“Because I get to see families in the community for a huge range of reasons, I often will go in for one child, but the family has six kids. So, I can go in and support any number of children in a variety of ways. It really has satisfied my passion for paediatrics.”
Persevere and consider volunteering
For graduate nurses looking for work, she says the best advice she can give is to persevere and keep applying, even when you don’t seem to be gaining any traction in finding a placement.
Nurses looking for work should also consider volunteering, says Megan.
Doing volunteer nurse work will strengthen your CV and hopefully help you to stand out from the pack of other applicants, she says. While she was looking for work, she volunteered for Plunket, participated in dance classes for disabled children, and made treats for sick kids with Project Sugar.
Megan has continued to volunteer as well, taking a month off in 2016 to volunteer at an orphanage in India.
Be ready to say ‘no’ to unsafe positions
While finding a job can be difficult, Megan says job-seeking nurses still need to be selective about the job offers they receive.
Before gaining her job at the GP clinic, she had been offered a non-NETP job as a nurse in a supported respite facility for disabled children. However, the role was a night-shift role in which Megan would be working alone.
“I was a brand-new nurse, so I said ‘no’. It would have been incredibly unsafe,” says Megan. “It wasn’t right of them to offer it to me either. It would have put me in a situation where something could have happened to the children while I was on duty.
“I was quite aware that it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
It is situations like these that can make the first year in nursing practise incredibly difficult, she says. Not only is there the challenge of applying the skills you have learned in a real-world setting, but there is still so much to learn both clinically and about working in the health system.
On top of this, Megan says there is potential for graduate nurses to get taken advantage of – with too much expected of them and not enough time and resources put into making sure they are ready for that workload.
Megan has talked to a nurse of the same age who during her NETP year often ended up being the most senior nurse on duty and had to take on senior responsibilities such as coordinating the shift. Megan too had a difficult first year of practice.
“[The GP clinic] had never had a new grad before, and unfortunately, it was not managed very well, and I ended up being bullied quite badly,” says Megan. “The whole experience really wore me down. Even though it was only a year, a lot of that was an unpleasant experience.”
But although the first years were difficult, she says that she still learnt a lot from them and it put her on the right path.
Still calling for more and better NETP places
Straight out of training, Megan was very outspoken about the challenges faced by graduate nurses, and her first few years of practice further embedded her desire to see a greater discussion around these continuing issues.
“I was so passionate about talking about New Zealand needing more NETP placements because, even though graduate nurses have had three years of training and placements, you still have so much learning to do.”
As well as speaking out herself, she encouraged other graduate nurses to openly discuss the issues around finding safe and stable employment out of training. She created a Facebook page for nurses looking for work and encouraged those on the page to share their stories as much as possible.
“Going from seven months without work into a workplace where I was treated unfairly confirmed to me that I needed to be speaking out – not just about the issues around finding a job but also the conditions that new grads are having to work in.
“The NETP programme could be better than it is. There are still a lot of New Zealand trained nurses who can’t get a job in their own country.
“If there was a NETP position for every trained nurse, that would be ideal. That way we can keep our nurses in the country and not have to make them think about moving to Australia and help the situation around unsafe staffing.”