A day in the life of a ... job-hunting new graduate nurse

1 June 2014

Meet new graduate nurse Megan Lyell and share a frustrating day in the life of the full-time job hunter and part-time emergency response attendant on Auckland's North Shore.

7:00am I drag myself out of bed, grumbling as I get ready for work. One shift a fortnight at a retirement village – where I work as an “emergency response attendant” – is a job I am grateful for but not passionate about. My supervisor is incredibly supportive and very aware I am looking for new grad work as an RN.

8:00am At handover, I’m told of a confused resident, an unhappy lady whose morning paper was pinched. I supervise medications, then wait for a call. My role is sole charge and clinical decisions depend entirely on my experience as a student nurse. Not ideal, but I think of the other new grads still without jobs. “I’m lucky”, I try to convince myself, “it’s all experience plus an income.” After chatting to the ladies who frequent the health clinic, I write a ‘to do’ list:

  • Send CV to job advert
  • Give that GP clinic another call
  • Pick up milk on way home
  • Visit nana at rest home
  • Organise dinner with ‘uni’ girls.

The last is the most difficult; a lot of my friends were successful with the November round of ACE (the graduate job clearing house). Everyone does shift work, so it’s a nightmare trying to find a time that suits everybody.

I’m grateful my friends got jobs. They’re amazing nurses and deserve success. But it doesn’t make my situation any easier, doesn’t give me a job, and can’t stop me feeling jealous that I wasn’t successful like they were.

12:00pm A total of one midday med to supervise, then I eat lunch with other staff members. They ask after my full-time job prospects and seem genuinely interested. I’ve lost count of how many job applications I have completed; a lot don’t get back to me. On the plus side, I’ve had ten interviews, with another in a weeks’ time*. I know others who’ve only had one or no interviews. I should be grateful. But I still feel incredibly let down by the government. I never expected to be handed my dream job on a silver platter. I just never realised how many limited spaces there were in NETP (nursing entry to practice) programmes – even less in paediatrics.

2:00pm I get called out to see a resident feeling unwell post-discharge from hospital with recurrent symptoms. I take a deep breath and ring an ambulance. “Has the patient been assessed by a doctor or a registered nurse?” asks the paramedic. “Yes, myself, I’m an RN.” I feel my stress levels rising. “What is your primary diagnosis?” I don’t have one. I feel like screaming, “I was taught never to diagnose – that’s a doctor’s job!” I talk nervously and explain her symptoms. An ambulance is dispatched.

4:00pm All is quiet and I get a chance to reflect on the day. “You did well,” I tell myself. “You couldn’t have done more”. Since being unsuccessful with ACE back in November, I find myself seeking constant reassurance. Have I done the right thing? Self-doubt is a huge hurdle I have battled with for months, constantly asking myself if I had done it differently would I have been given a NETP job offer? But there’s no point in going over it. Residents at the retirement village ask if I like it here? “Yes, I’m enjoying it” is my reply. “It’s just not a long-term situation for me, that’s all.”

5:00pm I handover to the night shift ER (emergency response attendant) and tell her of the day’s events before we chat. “How’s your job hunt going?” she asks? “I’m plodding along” is my usual reply.

6:00pm At home, I ask mum if there was any phone calls or mail for me? Just a letter from IRD that I don’t bother to open. Thoughts of my $40,000 student loan sends shivers down my spine. I grab my laptop to start the daily job search, anxiously chewing my nails. I start with Seek, Trade Me, and the newspaper. I apply for positions I don’t want, vacancies I hate the sound of, and jobs I am inexperienced for. I do it to show myself, and others, I am being pro-active. I’m constantly being told I just need a foot-in-the-door, it doesn’t matter in what area. But deep down, it matters to me. My choice to be an RN is a vocation, not just a job.

The passion I feel for paediatric nursing is so intense I know it’s what I’m meant to do with my life. My days of geriatric caregiving were amazing, but it's not for me. I was always told to do what I love, but after following my heart, I’m not sure I would give others the same advice.

10:00pm Before bed I check my emails one last time, any replies from job applications, MOH, John Key, or Nursing Organisation? No. I update my Facebook page with a sigh. I seem to be the only one contributing to this group that over 100 people have “liked”. My biggest disappointment has to be the small amount of new grads willing to stand up and speak out. To cheer myself up, I look through photos of me with my nephew Nikolai; he’s soon to be one, and he’s the apple of my eye.

Then I turn my wrist over, trace the outline of my tattoo, forcing back tears. My grandfathers’ initials in the outline of a heart. They never got to see me graduate. They were my biggest inspirations – two of the most incredible men in my life. I know they would want me to keep fighting for my passion and everything I believe in. Everything happens for a reason, or so I’m told.


As we went to press Megan Lyell - after seven hard months of job-hunting - had just won a position as a new graduate practice nurse.