As a new graduate nurse, it can be overwhelming trying to navigate the vast nursing landscape and find the perfect job that matches your skill set, interests, and long-term goals. Fear not! I’ve compiled a list of the best nursing jobs for new grads, broken down by patient acuity. Let’s dive in, shall we?
- The Best Nursing Jobs for New Nurse Grads
- High Acuity Nursing Units
- Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
- Specialty Units (OR, NICU, Labor and Delivery, CVOR)
- Emergency Department (ED)
- Stable Patients
- Long-Term Care
- Community Settings
We’re going to work through options that are from the highest acuity (which means the sickest and most complex patients) to the most stable patients, and finally to long term and preventative care. New grads can work in ALL of the areas! However, the ones with the most medically complex patients will have the steepest learning curve and will take the longest to feel comfortable in that role.
The Best Nursing Jobs for New Nurse Grads
Let’s go through different jobs and discuss who might thrive in these particular areas.
High Acuity Nursing Units
Nurses who will will thrive in these units right out of nursing school are a dime a dozen. Not everyone gets through orientation, and it’s not a job where it’s a great fit for anyone.
To do well in one of the following units, a new graduate nurse must be:
- Adaptable – things change in an instant and you must be able to pivot and reprioritize in an instant
- Emotionally resilient and assertive – people who work in these units use a lot of very direct communication and there tend to be many emotionally charged situations that nurses find themselves in the middle of
- Eager to learn – the new nurses who do well in these units go home at night and learn more off o the clock so that they can be on the top of their game when they get to work. These nurses are not checked out or passive. They are leaning in to learning more and dedicated to becoming a great nurse in their specialty.
- Strong communicators – Complex processes with many steps, various protocols and procedures, life or death situations, and more await nurses in the following units. To navigate that appropriately, you need to been able to tactfully communicate when you don’t understand something, are delivering bad news, or advocating for your patient.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
The ICU is an excellent place for new grads to develop their critical thinking and assessment skills. Caring for the sickest patients in the hospital requires constant vigilance and allows nurses to become proficient in various life-saving technologies. There are also specialty ICU’s like neuro, cardiovascular, surgical, trauma, and even transplant ICUs.
Specialty Units (OR, NICU, Labor and Delivery, CVOR)
Specialty units offer the opportunity to focus on a particular patient population or type of care. For example, working in the operating room will give you experience with surgical patients, while labor and delivery will expose you to childbirth and immediate postpartum care. These units allow new grads to hone their skills in a specialized area. New graduates in these areas
A note on specialties: If you do not know if you want to work in a specialty area or not, don’t apply just to try it out. Hiring managers are far less likely to hire you if you do not know the realities of the unit. I talk about that in-depth in this video.
Emergency Department (ED)
The fast-paced environment of the ED is ideal for new nurses looking for excitement and variety. You’ll encounter patients with varying levels of acuity and develop the ability to prioritize and manage care efficiently. The ED is perfect for new nurses who thrive under pressure.
These units with more stable patients, in my humble opinion, are the ideal place for nurses to build the foundation of their career. Patients can still decompensate quickly and need a higher level of care, but most will not. This enables you to really focus on building your skill sets without having the added pressure of managing unstable patients while learning.
Med-surg is the backbone of nursing, where many new grads begin their careers. In this setting, you’ll develop essential nursing skills, learn to manage multiple patients, and gain exposure to a wide range of health conditions. Common issues with med-surg patients include GI bleeds, sepsis, post-surgery, infections, and more. You can check out my favorite med-surg report sheet, or my comprehensive prep course.
Cardiac, Neuro, Ortho, Oncology
Observation Units These specialized units allow new grads to focus on particular systems or patient populations. While they might not be as fast-paced as the ICU or ED, these units still provide opportunities to develop strong assessment, critical thinking, and patient management skills.
Observation (often called “obs”) is a unit for people who came to the emergency department who are not quite sick enough to be fully admitted to the hospital, but aren’t quite safe enough to go home. There is a bit more throughput on this unit. It’s a great place to get exposed to a lot of different patient populations who have issues that need to be addressed or “observed” but are not life-threatening.
Skilled Nursing, Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals (LTACH), Rehabilitation
For those interested in caring for patients over an extended period, long-term care facilities offer a less intense pace and the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with patients and their families. You’ll also gain experience with chronic illness management and interdisciplinary teamwork.
The differences in these units can be a little confusing, so I dive deeper into them here.
New graduates can also work in the community as well. A common myth is that you HAVE to work in a hospital to be a “real nurse” but that’s 100% not true. If you’ve got a nursing license, you’re a real nurse. Work wherever you want to! The pros of working in these environments is that you’re not constantly dealing with life or death situations, which can decrease stress.
Also, most community nursing job options offer regular hours. Meaning, instead of three 12-hour shifts with weekend and holiday requirements, you’d be working five 8-hour shifts per week with no weekend or holiday requirements.
School nursing is a rewarding option for new grads who enjoy working with children and adolescents. You’ll provide health education, manage chronic conditions, and respond to emergencies, all while contributing to a healthy and safe learning environment.
If you’re passionate about public health and addressing health disparities, community health nursing might be the right fit for you. You’ll work in various settings, like public health departments, nonprofit organizations, or mobile clinics, to provide care and resources to underserved populations.
Clinic nursing offers a more predictable schedule and the opportunity to focus on specific areas of care, like family practice, pediatrics, women’s health, or a plethora of others. Nurses in clinic positions often spend a lot of time on the phone and computer, rather than providing direct care like acute care nurses.
As a nurse, you could work on an acute care or long term behavioral health facility. While these patients are suffering from any number of mental health conditions, they’re (mostly) medically stable. You would spend time talking to patients, managing medications, and providing support.
Home care offers the chance to care for patients within the comfort of their own homes. Patients are stable and require ongoing care, monitoring, and education but are stable and in more of a recovery and maintenance mode than a hurry up and figure out what’s wrong mode. Home health nurses take vitals, draw labs, perform assessments, educate, and answer questions.
Like one of my fellow Twitter nurse buds says, “It’s like med-surg, but with more blood.” Outpatient dialysis nurses get a ton of very relevant clinical experience. If you can’t get into the hospital but want to, working in a dialysis center will look awesome on an application – especially if you want to work ICU eventually.
No matter where you start, each nursing job provides valuable experience and opportunities for growth. As a new grad, don’t be afraid to explore different settings and patient populations to find the perfect fit for you. Good luck on your nursing journey!
Are you done with the guess-work of applying and interviewing for nursing jobs?
Hired from FreshRN is a self-paced, online course for ambitious nurses who want to be the ideal candidate for their dream job. Amber Nibling, MSN RN-BC, and Kati Kleber, MSN RN have interviewed hundreds of nurse applicants and they give you the inside scoop of what interviewers are thinking. Learn everything you need to know to impress potential employers (and yourself) by learning what the hiring team expects from you, so you can not only meet, but exceed those expectations.