Gaining experience as a nurse can be especially difficult for those who are new to their career. You apply for your dream job only to be told you lack the experience they need for the position. But, how are you to go about gaining experience when you can’t get a foot in the door? This is what is commonly referred to as a Catch 22.

According to the dictionary definition, a Catch 22 is a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. In other words, gaining experience by applying for a job for which experience is necessary. Anyone who is trying to fin employment as a new nurse understands this dilemma so well. 

Gaining Experience As a New Nurse

There is one tried and true way for you to work as a nurse, gaining experience by the minute, and building an impressive portfolio as you go. Agency, or supplemental, nurses are those nurses who work independently, finding employment through a medical staffing agency. Think of an staffing agency nurse as a freelance nurse.

These freelance medical professionals are not employed by any one hospital or medical facility. Instead an agency nurse accepts available jobs through the staffing agency based on the needs of the medical facility. Should a hospital need a nurse to cover for a staff member out on medical leave they would alert the agency. Likewise, if a care facility finds their beds completely full and not enough staff to provide adequate patient care they would contact the staffing agency. There are endless scenarios in which a medical facility would need to reach out to a staffing agency for nurses.

Gaining Experience That is Invaluable

When you work with a staffing agency you’ll be gaining experience in many different clinical venues, and work with a diverse group of patients; geriatric, pediatric, post-surgical patients, rehabilitation, and much more. This provides you a means for gaining experience you wouldn’t otherwise gain should you accept a position in one specialty. Working as a supplemental nurse with an agency provides you exposure to many different areas of healthcare and you may find you have a preference and talent for a specialty you hadn’t really thought about.

While you were studying and working toward your nursing degree you likely logged the required amount of clinical hours, giving you the opportunity for gaining experience in a hands-on setting. When it comes to working as a nurse those clinical hours may not be enough to build the confidence in yourself necessary to optimum patient care. Many potential employers need more experience than nursing school clinical hours provide. That’s what makes your experience with an agency so invaluable.

Learning the Necessity of Flexibility

Learning to be flexible is an asset in any career, but in nursing this trait is downright necessary. There will be times when you’re required to work a longer shift than you may have planned, or be asked to work a weekend or holiday when there’s a need. Gaining experience by working with an agency allows you to hone your flexibility. Patient care can be unpredictable and a nurse who can “roll with the punches” is an asset to any medical facility.

The Strength of Adaptability

As impressed as employers will be with your ability to be flexible, your ability to adapt to the constant changes you’ll face as nurse is equally as impressive. In whatever clinical setting you find yourself, as a nurse you will always need to “hit the ground running”. While you’re gaining experience by working in diverse settings and under different types of circumstances, you’re learning how to adapt. You may be in this position for 6 weeks, or 6 months, but while you’re there you are absolutely “all in”. 

Time Management 

For nurses learning how to manage your time is essential to your success, both personally and professionally. You might believe that your years as a student have taught you excellence in time management. Especially when you were in nursing school, trying to fit 28 hours in to a 24 hour day! You’ll need time management skills that go beyond even those you practiced in nursing school.

A nurse’s workload can be overwhelming indeed. This is even more true for the supplemental nurse who is stepping in to fill a staffing shortage, or covering for someone out on leave. You’ll be pulled in many different directions and if your time management skills aren’t strong you may not be able to adapt. 

Focus on ways you can make the best use of your time. Arrive early and take some quiet time to look over your agenda for the day. Align yourself with those who know the ropes. Become more efficient in your charting and administrative assignments. Gaining experience by with a staffing agency will offer you opportunities to strengthen your time management skills in so many ways. 

Seasoned nurses have the knowledge and skill it takes to rise strong in your profession. Gaining experience by working with different nurses who’ve been on the job for a bit helps you develop those traits necessary to a successful career in patient care. Working as a supplemental nurse is perhaps the best way to gain experience and avoid the Catch 22.

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